Per-Anders Pettersson began documenting South Africa in 1994 when the country entered its first free elections that made Nelson Mandela its president. His Latest book Rainbow Transit (Dewi Lewis, 2013) looks back at the hopeful yet turbulent times of a country undergoing an epic transition. Pettersson’s work will appear in TIME’s commemorative edition celebrating Mandela and here, the photographer shares about the work in his own words:
For South Africa, democracy was a hard-won freedom. Its rewards came alongside a soaring violent-crime rate, disease, poverty and massive unemployment. I first went to South Africa in the spring of 1994 to cover the election won by Nelson Mandela; I stayed for two decades to document a nation in transition.
Places like Soweto are changing rapidly because of massive investments through private and public funding. Its residents travel to and from work via upgraded taxi stations. They shop in upmarket malls, go to the movies, visit world-class theaters. South Africa’s policies of black economic empowerment reaped astonishing wealth for a new black elite and saw the rapid emergence of a black middle class.
But during the second decade, greed and disillusion began to smother this hope. In these photographs, I sought to portray the heady sense I felt of a latter-day gold rush, the energy and the optimism often forgotten.
Per-Anders Pettersson, born in Sweden, is an award-winning photojournalist based in South Africa.
Rainbow Transit was published by Dewi Lewis.