JOHANNESBURG, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Photographs of South African children in after-school tutoring groups and a mother and son carrying seedlings are among 30-odd images lining the walls of the old Women’s Jail, which once housed political prisoners like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
The exhibition in Johannesburg’s former prison complex – where thousands of women were held during the turbulent apartheid era – captures the everyday lives of entrepreneurs battling continuing inequalities in Cape Town’s townships.
“Our stories have always been told by visiting photographers,” said Neo Ntsoma, a veteran photojournalist who mentored two younger photographers whose pictures are on display at the old jail at Constitution Hill, now a court.
“It is high time we show there is another side to us instead of just poverty and crime.”
High rates of unemployment and stark inequalities stemming from decades of white minority rule make South Africa a fertile ground for social enterprises, which aim to solve social problems with business approaches.
But the sector is small, with less than 2 percent of the working population involved in social entrepreneurship in South Africa, compared to 4 percent globally, according to the University of Pretoria.
This inspired the French development bank AFD to pair up with Igalelo – a local charity which mentors entrepreneurs – to document how three local businesses are tackling the country’s entrenched inequality.
“We believe that entrepreneurship and innovation can create a more inclusive, more equal society,” said Mathieu Planchard, head of Igalelo, which encourages entrepreneurs to register as formal companies to help attract additional funding.
One of the entrepreneurs featured in the exhibition is Bulelani Futshane, founder of Township Roots, a tutoring programme that aims to reduce school drop-outs.
Photographs by Langa-based photographer Andiswa Mkosi capture Futshane’s interactions with students, as well as his own daughters, including helping them with their homework as a single father.
“I am not here to sell poverty,” Futshane said.
“I am here to show the resilience of my people. I am not ashamed to show that our people are able to survive in poverty, and that they are not only able to survive, but they are blossoming.”
Only four in ten students complete school in Philippi, one of the townships where Futshane works, government data shows.
“Literacy can help elevate the community,” said Futshane.
Musician Sibusiso Nyamakazi, photographed by Ross Jansen, said he is on a mission is to use music to challenge inequality.
One photograph shows Nyamakazi standing amid percussion keyboards called marimbas as pupils sit on desks listening attentively to his class, part of the Imvula Music Program which brings music lessons into Philippi schools.
“People come to the townships thinking they have got us figured out. They offer us engineering, medicine and IT bursaries,” he said in notes accompanying the photos.
“Many among us are creatives … There is little focus on who we are and too much focus on what we need to become a first world country.”
The third entrepreneur featured in the exhibition is Renshia Manuel, founder of GrowBox, which designs portable wooden boxes to grow vegetables in cramped living conditions.
She lives in Hanover Park, where only three out of ten people are employed, according to government census data.
The images show Manuel delivering vegetables to clients in wealthier parts of Cape Town and watering plants with her daughter.
High crime rates and drought-related water restrictions threatened her livelihood, but Manuel is determined to show a different side to the township.
“I want to show people that there is more to Hanover Park than the gang violence everybody hears about. There are good people and good initiatives coming out of this place,” she said.
For veteran photographer Ntsoma, holding an exhibition in a space where black women like her were incarcerated for their role in the democracy struggle shows that change is possible.
“I was close to tears when we launched this project,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“My rights were fought for here as a woman, so that one day I could have a voice. I am a product of what South African female freedom fighters stood for. That is why this exhibition means everything to me.”
Reporting by Kim Harrisberg @kimharrisberg, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org