The South African Context

South Africa’s transition from the apartheid regime to democracy was heralded globally as a miracle, ushering in utopian visions of a rainbow nation, which proved to be stronger in symbolism and legislative change than in structural transformation. Three decades later, South Africans are grappling with the notion of failure, overshadowed by the ideas of what this democracy could have been. Unresolved dispossession, an ailing economy, unemployment, continuous load-shedding, corruption and crime have led to a state of social exhaustion and political disillusionment.


Exhibition reproductions, from left: Aerial view of the long queues of voters during the 1994 general elections in South Africa (27 April 1994). Photo Gallo Images/Sunday Times/Raymond Preston | South African President Nelson Mandela congratulating Springbok skipper François Pienaar after handing him the William Webb Ellis Trophy. The Springboks beat New Zealand 15–12 after over-time in the Rugby World Cup final (24 June 1995). Photo Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP via Getty Images | Dr Alex Boraine and Bishop Desmond Tutu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (11 November 1997). Photo Gallo Images/Business Day/Lori Waselchuk | Thousands of striking mine workers demonstrate on a hill near Lonmin’s Karee Platinum Mine, Rustenburg demanding a wage increase. Violent clashes between mine workers and police left at least 18 people dead and several others injured (16 August 2012). Photo Gallo Images/City Press/Leon Sadiki | Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Death of George Floyd (2020), taken during load shedding. © and courtesy Lindokuhle Sobekwa/Magnum Photos