TIME fly farming

How One South African Entrepreneur Hopes to Make Millions From Maggots

A worker holds up fly larvae waiting to be harvested at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.
Mike Hutchings—Reuters A worker holds up fly larvae waiting to be harvested at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.

Self-described Eco-Capitalist Jason Drew of AgriProtein is farming flies to feed the world, clean up waste, and make a mint in the process

When Jason Drew plunges his hand into a seething mass of three-day old maggots, it is with the contentment of a farmer inspecting his thriving flock. His latest venture, AgriProtein, based in a sprawling, newly built factory farm on the edge of Cape Town’s international airport, is already showing signs of exponential growth. In just a few weeks, when the last of the cages have been installed, the feeding machines put in place and the processing equipment up and running, he expects to have 8.5 billion head of Hermetia Illucens on site on any given day. Translated into English, and dollars, that would be about 22 tons of Black Soldier Fly larvae a day, worth some ten thousand dollars once they are processed, pressed and dried into granules destined for chicken farms and aquaculture plants. But Drew isn’t just doing it for the money. He believes that flies will save the world. He is not alone.

By 2050, the world’s population will increase by two billion people. Demand for animal protein to feed that nine billion will increase even more quickly, as rising incomes from India to Africa mean a greater demand for beef, pork, fish and chicken. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calls that the “animal protein crunch.” Drew calls it an investment opportunity. The industrial farming of meat is an inefficient process that requires protein, often in the form of small fish harvested from increasingly depleted seas. It takes a minimum of 1.5 kilograms of fishmeal make one kilogram of farmed chicken meat, a scandalous plundering of the ocean’s limited resources that threatens the entire marine ecosystem. “We are fishing out the ocean to feed our pigs,” says Paul Vantomme of the FAO. “That not a wise long term solution.” Or, as Drew puts it, “if chickens were meant to eat fish, we would call them seagulls.” What chickens do eat, he says, is bugs and larvae. So why not feed them what they are meant to eat?

Seven years ago Drew came up with the deceptively simple idea of farming flies to supply a fishmeal alternative to chicken and fish farms. He was inspired, in part, by the sight of a vast pool of blood collecting behind an abattoir near his family farm. It was swarming with flies. Flies are nature’s housecleaners, feasting on organic waste that would otherwise become a breeding ground for disease. With the support of his brother and the help of an entomologist at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University who was working on the idea of fly-driven “bio-recycling,” he developed a program that would take food waste from Cape Town’s hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and abattoirs to feed and breed flies.

Jason Drew of AgriProtein in 2013.
Jenny Goldhawk—AFP/Getty ImagesJason Drew of AgriProtein in 2013.

He sold his family farm in South Africa’s lush wine country to invest $2.6 million in research and development. Once his idea started gaining traction (a 2011 TEDx talk helped), he attracted another $11 million in investment, enough to build his new factory farm — he expects to be cash flow positive within five months — and launch a global expansion. New branches are in the works in North America, Latin America and Europe as well. He estimates that there is a market for some 2,500 fly farming factories of his size around the world. Food experts agree. “From a practical point of view, farming insects appears to be one of the most interesting protein alternatives for getting food on the table of a growing global population,” says Vantomme of the FAO. “It is economically viable. The only thing missing is scale.” Vantomme says global need for animal protein — fishmeal or its alternatives — is in the “millions of tons per year.”

AgriProtein is ready for the challenge. One female Black Soldier Fly, the breed of choice for AgriProtein, lays about 1,500 eggs. One kilogram of fly eggs produces 380 kilograms of larval protein in just three days. In ten days nearly two thirds of those microscopic white eggs will have hatched and grown into a squirming mass of centimeter-long larvae. “The Black Soldier Fly maggots are incredible bio-converters, very efficient at converting food into maggot, which is fantastic for industry,” says AgriProtein’s head of Research and Development, entomologist Cameron Richards.

Once they reach the brown-shelled pupae stage — that’s the equivalent of a chrysalis for butterfly lovers — they are ready to be harvested, a process that involves pressing, crushing and drying. At that point the so called “mag-meal” is ready to be shipped around the world at about half the cost of traditional fish meal, which currently cost about $2,000 a metric ton on the global commodities index.

Workers push a container of recycled rotting vegetable matter used to feed larvae at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.
Mike Hutchings—ReutersWorkers push a container of recycled rotting vegetable matter used to feed larvae at the AgriProtein project farm near Cape Town, in 2014.

Not only is the food waste that goes to feed the flies free of cost, keeping it out of landfill, where it would otherwise create green-house-gas-increasing methane and pollute the water supply, it does a good turn for the environment. “We take it for granted that we need to recycle our paper glass and tin. It will be come increasingly evident that we also need to recycle waste nutrients, whether it be food waste from supermarkets or abattoir waste from industrial slaughterhouses,” Drew writes in his short book, “The Story of the Fly, and How it Could Save the World.” At full capacity, Drew expects his larvae to go through 100 tons of food waste a day. And unlike runoff from traditional fish, chicken or pork farms, fly feces makes for rich compost ready for agricultural use. Unlike common houseflies, which can spread disease, “Black Soldier Flies are not known as disease vectors, they do not bite nor do they carry pathogens like on their feet and mouthparts,” says Frederic Tripet, an expert on insect-spread diseases at Keele University’s Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology in the United Kingdom. Nor does fly farming create noxious gasses that might drive down property prices. The air in AgriProtein’s incubating rooms (where the doors have signs admonishing visitors against making noise: “This is a QUIET ZONE. Flies mating!) smells vaguely of rotting meat, but it’s not enough to want a gas mask.

Getting from the theoretical to the practical of farming flies was an arduous process of trial and error, says AgriProtein’s entomologist Richards. Flies are picky about how they breed and lay eggs, and the AgriProtein team had to figure out how to get flies, who prefer to breed in the summer and lay eggs only at specific times, to adapt to the needs of a 24-hour, 365-day-a year industrial process. “As with any biological process, the problem is up scaling,” says Richards. “In nature things work on a small scale. As soon as you want to increase that to industrial size, unforeseen problems come to the fore” — like the fact that maggots overheat when there are too many feeding at once. The solutions to those problems are a tightly-held secret. AgriProtein may be a pioneer in the field of industrial fly farming, but competitors in China and Europe are already catching on. Drew isn’t the only one to see money in maggots.

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Daily Show

South Africans Rejoice and Regret Trevor Noah’s Ascension to The Daily Show

For South African comedians, there is no shortage of rich material. A President charged with using state funds to upgrade his personal home with a top-of-the-line chicken coop to an electricity company better at delivering excuses than power — the company recently blamed wet coal for power outages. So it is with some degree of regret, and with a great deal of pride, that South Africans welcomed the news that Soweto-born Trevor Noah is to take over The Daily Show when host Jon Stewart steps down later this year.

Twitter lit up with notes of congratulations and support, as South Africans bequeathed yet another star to the international pantheon of household names. “Could Trevor Noah be SA’s third A-lister after Madiba and Charlize?” wrote Capetonian Sibongile Mafu, using an affectionate term for Nelson Mandela and referring to Academy Award–winning actress Charlize Theron. “I think so!”

Other South African comedians celebrated with humorous riffs of their own, pondering the wealth that comes with taking the job of one of the best-paid television hosts in American history: “South African Google hangs as thousands search “John Stewart’s Salary” #dailyshow #TrevorNoah” tweeted radio host Darren Simpson, before going on to note that his ascension to Jon Stewart-dom “makes you realize your dreams.”

Simpson, who has known Noah since 2006 from their time together on South Africa’s comedy circuit, tells TIME that there is “no doubt that Trevor can deliver. He is a phenomenal talent. He is going to offer something completely different, and completely great.” His humor, notes Simpson, will make for a seamless transition. “The fact that he is from South Africa is superfluous to what an incredible talent he is.”

Not that South Africans will let it be forgotten that Noah is one of their own. “Congratulations, @Trevornoah, on the temporary reunification of South Africa,” tweeted author Richard de Nooy in a take on Noah’s bi-racial origins as much as his ability to transcend the legacy of apartheid and take on still-touchy race issues.

Noah, the son of a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father whose relationship was illegal during the time of apartheid, often likes to joke that he shouldn’t be allowed to exist. That mixed heritage sparked humorous debate on Twitter, as correspondents mockingly claimed Noah for one race or the other. “Breaking: amaXhosa and Swiss-Germans in fierce race to claim Trevor Noah,” tweeted Cape Town–based journalist Lester Kiewit.

Much has been made of the fact that The Daily Show has chosen for Stewart’s successor a relative unknown on the American comedy circuit. Noah has only made three appearances on the show since he came on as a correspondent in December, and the fact that he has supplanted other favorites may rankle avid Daily Show fans stateside. But for Americans who are only now starting to wake up to the serious race issues that divide the U.S., Trevor Noah could not be a better gift from South Africa. His brand of satirical sugar may yet make the medicine go down. For South Africans, however, the parting is bittersweet. “Trevor is going global, and that’s great,” says Simpson. “But we are going to have to get used to seeing a lot less of Trevor Noah, and that’s a loss.” But when it comes to commenting on the President’s chicken coop, there is sure to be plenty of folks to take his place.

Read next: Trevor Noah Is the Sort of Risk More Networks Should Take

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME South Africa

Sequel to Nelson Mandela’s Autobiography Announced

Nelson Mandela waves in Paris, June 7, 1990.
Michel Clement and Daniel Janin —AFP/Getty Images Nelson Mandela waves in Paris, June 7, 1990.

The book will feature Mandela's writings on his presidency

A sequel of Nelson Mandela’s 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, will be published next year by Pac Macmillian, which owns the U.K. and Commonwealth rights to the work, off a little-known, unfinished manuscript handwritten by “Mandiba” himself.

The forthcoming title will spotlight the political maelstrom around South Africa’s inaugural black president, who was tasked with creating a post-apartheid multicultural democracy amid a burgeoning HIV/AIDS crisis, the dissolution of his marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and the social acrimony exposed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

After Mandela’s death in December 2013, his widow Graca Machel showed the nearly 230,000-word manuscript to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which organized a committee to edit the book, led by South African politician and analyst Tony Trew, reports the Guardian.

Approximately a third of the book will be based on Mandela’s writing, while the rest will be written by Trew. The tome is also due to controversially confirm that Mandela favored Cyril Ramaphosa instead of eventual President Thabo Mbeki to succeed him.

Mandela’s first autobiography was co-written by Richard Stengel, former TIME managing editor and Obama’s current Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Stengel’s work produced a worldwide bestseller that also spawned a 2013 movie adaptation.

The 115-chaptered Long Walk to Freedom outlined Mandela’s transition from prisoner to president, but it paused at 1994, without delving into Mandela’s presidency.

MORE: Read TIME’s obituary of Nelson Mandela

[The Guardian]

TIME medicine

First Successful Penis Transplant ‘Massive Breakthrough’, Doctors Say

The operation took 9 hours to perform

A 21-year-old man has received the world’s first successful penile transplant, surgeons say.

The man, whose name was not revealed for privacy reasons, had his organ amputated three years ago after a circumcision went wrong. Doctors at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital in South Africa operated for nine hours in December, and just a few months later they say he’s already regained full function in the transplanted organ —a much faster recovery than they had hoped for.

“It’s a massive breakthrough. We’ve proved that it can be done – we can give someone an organ that is just as good as the one that he had,” Prof Frank Graewe, head of the Division of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery at Stellenbosch University, said. “It was a privilege to be part of this first successful penis transplant in the world.”

While at least one other attempt has been made at penile transplant, the surgeons say this is the first such operation to succeed.

In their announcement, the doctors emphasized the psychological trauma of penile amputation, a problem they say is particularly acute in South Africa.

TIME South Africa

Watch This South African TV Reporter Get Mugged Seconds Before Going Live

Police have a few clues with this one

A South African television journalist was mugged on Tuesday night while preparing for a live broadcast in Johannesburg.

Vuyo Mvoko, South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) contributing editor, was reporting on the arrival of Zambian President Edgar Lungu at Milpark Hospital, reports 9News.

The video shows two men approach Vuyo, who was seconds away from going on air, and proceed to rob him and the news crew of their phones and laptop in full view of the rolling cameras.

“They took about two or three phones, the laptop that we’re using to do the crossing, and they just disappeared,” said Mvoko in an interview.

Police were notified and are investigating the robbery.

[9News]

Read next: A Village in Italy Just Got 8 Feet of Snow in 1 Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME

This Domestic Violence PSA Makes a Powerful Statement with #The Dress

"Why is it so hard to see black and blue?"

The Salvation Army has used the internet’s biggest meme to bring awareness to domestic abuse.

The South African branch of the charity tweeted a public service announcement on Friday, featuring an image of the battered woman in a white and gold version of the now-famous dress, with a caption that reads, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?”

The dress is an obvious reference to the image of a dress that went viral at the end of February, driving millions of pages views and sparking many real-life conversations, as people debated the color of the dress. Due to an optical illusion, some saw the dress as white and gold and others saw black and blue. The phenomenon captivated worldwide attention, and #TheDress soon became an internet phenomenon.

While many brands were quick to try to co-opt the meme’s viral power, the Salvation Army’s use of #TheDress may be the most powerful yet. By using the meme in its PSA, the Salvation Army has turned a fun and bizarre optical illusion that everyone has seen, into an indictment against a society that routinely turns its back on the many women who suffer from domestic abuse.

TIME portfolio

Discover South Africa’s Spiritual World

German photographer Corinna Kern takes us on an unexpected spiritual journey

From former male model and horse breeder to respected traditional healer, Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid left his life of excess and wealth to become one of the first white sangomas among the Pondoland people in South Africa.

Sangomas are spiritual healers who practice traditional forms of African medicine. However, they do not reject Western medication, often incorporating it into their practices.

Reid is one of 200,000 sangomas in South Africa. He was first initiated in 1997, and regularly gives consultations in Cape Town as well as around his homestead in the Transkei, a southeastern region of South Africa.

Before becoming a full-fledged sangoma, trainees, who are initiated in a spiritual ceremony, must go through a learning period when they are referred to as a “thwasa”. This process can last several years.

German photojournalist Corinna Kern was given unprecedented access to follow sangoma Reid to document his lifestyle and the initial ceremony of becoming a “thwasa”. “I slept with them in the homestead at his place, it was very rural and there was no electricity,” she tells TIME. “The most eye-opening thing for me about this whole project was the trainees and what they have to go through to become a sangoma. They have to wear white clothing when they get initiated and they are not allowed to sleep on beds. They can only sleep on the ground or on a thin mat.”

Looking back on her project, Kern is “grateful to have had this unique experience, to see all of these things that most people, even in South Africa, would never see.”

Corinna Kern is a photojournalist and documentary photographer based in South Africa. Follow her on Twitter

Adam Glanzman is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

TIME South Africa

South Africa’s State of The Nation Address Starts With a Fistfight, Ends With a Dance

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, wearing red uniforms, clash with security forces during South African President's State of the Nation address in Cape Town on Feb. 12, 2015.
Rodger Bosch—AFP/Getty Images Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, wearing red uniforms, clash with security forces during South African President's State of the Nation address in Cape Town on Feb. 12, 2015.

“For a solid hour last night South Africa resembled a messy, dysfunctional state being held together by the security forces”

At least on some things, South African President Jacob Zuma knows how to deliver. His much-anticipated State of the Nation Address on Thursday night in Cape Town promised a spectacle. The nation got a circus that kept South Africans glued to their TV screens for several hours with scenes of heckling parliamentarians, fistfights on the parliament floor, an opposition party walkout and Zuma’s inappropriate chuckles. There was even a note of spy-craft intrigue: cellphone signals were mysteriously blocked for 20 minutes, preventing journalists from tweeting and filing stories and photos from the venue. The actual content of Zuma’s speech — uninspiring and lacking in content by most assessments — will be forgotten long before the full impact of a precariously divided government is felt on the country and Zuma’s political future. “It was hard to believe that South Africa is a functional democracy,” lamented an editorial in the local Times newspaper. “For a solid hour last night South Africa resembled a messy, dysfunctional state being held together by the security forces.”

Shortly after taking the podium, Zuma was interrupted by a member of the rabble-rousing Economic Freedom Fighters EFF party demanding to know when he would pay back government funds inappropriately used to upgrade his personal residence. Another cheekily asked how the estimated $21 million would be repaid – via cash, electronic transfer, or debit card? Three times they were ruled out of order, part of a carefully choreographed campaign to shame the President. When EFF leader Julius Malema, a one-time Zuma acolyte turned opponent, insisted that he had the right to be heard, the speaker of the house called in the security forces to evict all 25 members of the party. Television screens went momentarily dark. Photographs taken during what cable operators termed a feed interruption show the red jumpsuit-clad EFF members struggling with the guards, some using their trademark red hardhats to bash their way out of security cordons. By the time the television broadcast resumed, not a single member of the EFF, which makes up a very loud six percent of parliament, remained in the room. A few minutes later all 89 members of the official opposition Democratic Alliance walked out in disgust, leaving just the 249 members of Zuma’s African National Congress, and a handful of independents, behind.

MORE South Africa’s State of Nation Address Has Become a Carnival that Avoids Country’s Real Problems

The room thus cleared of naysayers, Zuma returned to the podium an hour after the scheduled start with a triumphant chuckle. He was met with a burst of applause from his African National Congress party faithful, but the content was not worth the accolades. Considering that South Africa is wracked by a power crisis that leaves many parts of the country in the dark for several hours every day, a crumbling economy (the Rand hit a 13-year low the evening before the speech), rising civil unrest, and the highest youth unemployment rate in Africa, Zuma’s speech was disappointingly lacking in urgency and concrete solutions. He did promise a $2 billion bailout of the cash-strapped Eskom power utility, but failed to say where, exactly, the money would come from. He also laid out a nine point plan to “ignite growth and create jobs” that echoed earlier economic strategies that have yet to bear fruit. And he pledged that foreigners would no longer be able to own land in South Africa. It was a sop to rural loyalists, perhaps, but a threat to the foreign investment that is a large part of the country’s economic lifeblood.

If Nelson Mandela’s first Presidential address to South Africans established the ANC as the party of the country’s promising future 20 years ago, Zuma’s state of the nation speech on Feb. 12 firmly cemented it in a dysfunctional present. “What did Zuma’s speech tell me? It tells me we are doomed,” says 34-year-old Cape Town resident Jacques, who asked to go by only his first name. “He didn’t give us any real plan on how we are going to turn the situation around. Already the foreign companies are fleeing, and they are taking the jobs with them.” Jacques at least has a shop assistant job, a relative rarity in a country where one in two South Africans between the age of 18 and 35 are unemployed. Jacques grew up as an ANC supporter, but says that he has lost all respect for the party that took Black South Africans like him from apartheid to equality. “Zuma says he is bringing changes, but only thing the ANC brought us was Mandela,” says Jacques. “I don’t even bother voting anymore.” He is not alone. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, more South Africans chose not to vote than voted for the ANC, a damning demonstration of national frustration. Not that Zuma and members of his party members appear to be doing anything to counter the trend. Instead they celebrated their “victory” over the EFF by dancing the night away on Parliament’s steps. It was a marked reversal for a party that once made history by speaking out of turn, and whose members were carted away by armed security guards for daring to do so.

Read next: See the Photos That Gave Americans Their First Glimpse of Apartheid in 1950

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME South Africa

South Africa’s State of Nation Address Has Become a Carnival that Avoids Country’s Real Problems

The red carpet is laid out at Parliament before the start of the official opening session in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 12, 2015.
Schalk van Zuydam—AP The red carpet is laid out at Parliament before the start of the official opening session in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 12, 2015.

Red carpets, paparazzi, fistfights and $382,000 gala dinners? Welcome to Jacob Zuma's 6th annual address to South Africans

Social Media can be an effective tool for a president wanting to stay in touch with his citizens. It can also be a potent, and public, amplifier of criticism, as South African President Jacob Zuma learned to his dismay this week. In advance of his annual State of the Nation address Zuma invited the public to suggest themes using the hashtag ‪#‎SONA2015. The most tweeted topic? His resignation:

“Pay Back the Money” is likely to echo through the chambers of Parliament as well, when Zuma takes the stage on the evening of Feb. 12. For the past three years his office has been embroiled in the so-called “Nkandlagate” scandal, in which he has been charged with using $21 million in public funds to remodel his homestead in the rural town of Nkandla. The renovations were billed as “security upgrades” but included a private military hospital, a helicopter landing pad and the installation of a swimming pool. Zuma says that he was unaware of the improvements being made at his residence.

Zuma has avoided Parliament since August, when a rabble-rousing minority party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, heckled him from the stage with questions about when he would repay the money. The speaker of the house was forced to close down the question and answer period and eventually called in the police to subdue the wayward parliamentarians.

The EFF has vowed to repeat their performance at the State of the Nation address, raising fears that security will be called in once again, this time broadcast primetime on national television. South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that parliamentary security staff had been sent to self-defense classes in preparation for the address. (Parliamentary officials stated that the training was routine.) Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance has pitched a snit of its own, refusing to attend the traditional post-speech gala cocktail party on the grounds that at a cost of $382,000 it is a waste of taxpayer money. The deputy speaker of the National Assembly responded that he would bill the DA for empty seats, because it was too late to recoup the catering costs.

What would be a yawn-worthy event in any other circumstance has riveted the nation, says Frans Cronje, head of the Institute of Race Relations, South Africa’s oldest think-tank. “For the first time South Africans will watch the state of the nation address. This will beat anything else on TV.” One newspaper has even published rules for a drinking game to go with the speech. The pomp and pageantry of the annual address easily lends itself to ridicule. Complete with a red carpet, paparazzi and parliamentarians dressed to the nines (last year one minister showed up in a pilot’s uniform, even though he didn’t have a license), it is “the closest thing South Africa has to the Academy Awards,” says John Endres, CEO of the Johannesburg-based Good Governance Africa policy group.

But the circus-like atmosphere of this years’ address obscures some of the country’s deeper realities, few of which are likely to be covered in depth during the president’s speech. South Africa’s crippled power utility is struggling to meet demand after 20 years of neglect, resulting in rolling blackouts that are likely to last for several months. The power shortage has hobbled investment and curtailed growth in Africa’s most industrialized economy. On Tuesday the Rand fell to its weakest level in 13 years. While the overall unemployment rate decreased slightly last year, the country’s youth unemployment rate shot up to 52.6 percent, the highest in the continent, according to a new report by Good Governance Africa. “South Africa’s youth remain trapped, dependent on hand-outs and unable to improve their lives,” said Karen Hasse, a GGA researcher. “Without better education and business-friendly policies to encourage economic growth and employment, the country’s youth face a hopeless future.”

Zuma may touch on the power crisis and unemployment — it would be hard not to — but there is little he can do without fundamental policy changes, none of which appear forthcoming, says Cronje. “The government is running out of money to run the country. They can’t borrow any more because the debt to GDP ratio has doubled in five years, and they can’t reduce expenditures,” for fear of inciting unrest. Violent protests have become a near daily occurrence, over jobs, schooling, medical care and illegal immigrants. “For the first time since 1994 (the end of apartheid) we are seeing a real pick up in the hiring of riot control police officers.” The EFF spectacle in parliament is nothing compared to what South Africa has in store, he warns. “I wonder to what extent Zuma understands this or is interested in it. We are not seeing in his policies the types of moves that will draw investment to drive growth.”

Of course, state of the nation addresses are not where policy is made. In the case of South Africa, the occasion has become a platform for a populist party on the rise. “The EFF has nothing to lose,” says Enders, of Good Governance Africa. “They have been very smart at generating attention, and highlighting the weaknesses of the current system.” But what is good for the EFF, may not be so good for South Africa. “It’s a bit of a crisis, actually,” says Enders, speaking of the possibility that security forces may have to be called in if heckling gets out of hand. “Using the police to stop people from speaking in parliament is infringing on freedom of speech. But freedom of speech comes with rules that are meant to keep discourse civilized and allow the proper exchange of ideas. So what should be done if the EFF doesn’t follow those rules?” South Africa’s 2015 State of the Nation Address may be billed as spectacle, but it could turn into something much more serious.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of State of the Nation speeches Zuma has given. It is the 6th.

Read next: See the Photos That Gave Americans Their First Glimpse of Apartheid in 1950

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME History

See the Photos That Gave Americans Their First Glimpse of Apartheid in 1950

On the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, a historian examines the LIFE photo essay that introduced Americans to South Africa's devastating system of segregation

A photograph of two muscular young black men dominated the page. Their faces and shirtless torsos, drenched with sweat, filled the frame, giving them an almost palpable physical presence. Hard hats, tilted back to expose their faces, encircled their heads like halos. Lanterns on the hats and the dark rock behind the men told LIFE’s readers that they were miners.

The two men averted their eyes from the camera, their expressions composed but inscrutable. Who were these men behind their enigmatic masks? LIFE’s caption provided no answers. It identified them only as “Gold Miners Nos. 1139 and 5122,” the numbers the mine had assigned these “units.” On the opening page of “South Africa and Its Problem,” the photo essay that introduced America to apartheid, the men were symbols rather than individuals, emblems of oppression and exploitation.

“Apartheid,” a word that means, simply, “apart-hood,” will forever be associated with South Africa’s notorious system of racial domination and with the freedom struggle that brought it to an end. In 1950, when LIFE published its exposé, the word was still unfamiliar to most Americans. The term itself had begun to gain currency only after the South African National Party’s electoral victory in 1948.

Although 300 years of colonialism had created a racial hierarchy, the party promised that apartheid would be more comprehensive than anything that had come before, ensuring that white supremacy would survive for generations to come. LIFE’s editors viewed apartheid as a troubling development. South Africa was an American ally, and this new, more virulent form of racism had the potential to destabilize the Cold War order. They assigned Margaret Bourke-White to produce the pictures that would explain apartheid to Americans.

Bourke-White was an obvious choice for such an important assignment. Her compelling reportage for LIFE from the Soviet Union during World War II, from India at the time of independence and from throughout the United States during the Great Depression had made her one of the most famous and respected photojournalists of her era. She arrived in South Africa in late 1949 and left in mid-April 1950, traveling widely in South Africa proper and visiting South West Africa (now Namibia, then South Africa-governed) and Bechuanaland (now Botswana, then a British colony). She produced over 5,000 photographs, covering subjects that ranged from landscapes to cabinet ministers to “native” women in colorful costumes.

Margaret Bourke White in South Africa, 1950
Margaret Bourke-White—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

As her time in South Africa lengthened, Bourke-White increasingly turned her attention to the farms and gold and diamond mines that underpinned South Africa’s economy. She made some of the first photographs that captured the grueling conditions deep inside South Africa’s gold mines. She photographed convict laborers — most of whom had been found guilty of minor offenses — being marched at gunpoint to white farmers’ fields.

Her images exposed the wine farms’ infamous “tot system,” a practice that paid workers, some of them children, partly in cheap wine, thereby addicting them to alcohol and creating a dependent labor force. She showed African men queuing for passbooks, the degrading internal passports that allowed them to move around in the country of their birth. She photographed women and children amid the dirt and decay of urban shantytowns.

The photographs LIFE published in “South Africa and Its Problem” spoke eloquently about the indignities that blacks endured, the wealth that they created but did not enjoy, and about the political and economic structures that kept them in their place. It cast blacks as workers and “natives,” who were essentially passive in the face of an oppressive system. “The Whites Won the Land, the Blacks Work It,” one of LIFE’s headlines proclaimed. There seemed to be little hope for change

It was a convincing argument, but it was profoundly incomplete.

Modern readers are likely to wonder, after flipping through the essay, Where is Nelson Mandela? And where is the African National Congress (ANC) he led to power in 1994? More broadly they might ask, Where is any evidence at all of black activism? The evidence, in the form of Bourke-White’s photographs, existed. LIFE’s editors chose not to publish almost all of it and to minimize the rest.

“South Africa and Its Problem” contains only the slightest hint of the activism that would ultimately transform the country, despite the fact that the 1940s and early 1950s were a time of tremendous cultural and political dynamism among black South Africans. The last photograph in the essay, and by far the smallest, was an image of an ornamental plinth in front of Johannesburg’s city hall. On it, somebody had scrawled, “God is Black.” LIFE explained the scene by saying that the words were written by “a resentful Native.” Bourke-White understood its deeper significance. In a note to her editors, written while she was still in South Africa, she explained that the message was “[s]ymptomatic of the growing racial self-consciousness of the black folk of South Africa.”

Bourke-White was aware of the changing self-consciousness because she had photographed and spoken with black activists and intellectuals. She photographed a rally that had been called to protest “Police Terror” and the hated passbooks. A close-up of Phillip Mbhele, one of the protestors, showed him wearing a badge that read, “We Don’t Want Passes.” She also photographed union meetings and a campaign that urged better education for African children. She made portraits of several anti-apartheid leaders, although not Nelson Mandela.

It is likely that LIFE’s editors chose not to publish these photographs because many of the demonstrations and activists that organized them were associated with the Communist Party of South Africa. (At this time, the ANC and most of its members, including Mandela, were hostile to communism. Neither ANC members nor activities appear in Bourke-White’s photographs.) Given the anti-communist fervor that pervaded American culture at the time, editors may well have believed that they were doing black South Africans a favor by remaining silent about activism. Ties to communism would have made it difficult for many readers sympathize with the freedom struggle.

The editors’ decision to hide what they knew about black activism did Bourke-White, their readers, and black South Africans — the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with communism — a disservice. It compromised an analysis of South African society that was otherwise as moving as it was convincing. “South Africa and Its Problem” created a flattened, one-dimensional representation of black communities by failing to reveal the cultural and political dynamism that would eventually free them.

Six decades after its publication, the photo essay remains a compelling analysis and explicit condemnation of racial injustice at the dawn of the apartheid era. If not for its omissions, though, it could have been so much more.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com