After Apartheid: Reflecting on South Africa 20 Years Later

2 minute read

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.

A mans cuts his beard outside his home in Khayelitsha, the biggest black township outside, Cape Town, South Africa, 2002.Per-Anders Pettersson
Early morning service at The Zion Church, Site B, Khayelitsha, South Africa, July 2001. One of the poorest and fastest growing townships, Khayelitsha attracts people from rural areas in Eastern Cape province in search of work, though many retain a close connection to their home village and to traditional life.Per-Anders Pettersson
Outside Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nogoma, rural Natal, South Africa, September 2004 . Young maidens line up to dance for Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelethini, at the annual Reed Dance. Around 20,000 girls come from all over South Africa to declare their virginity in a ceremony encouraging sexual abstinence to curb the spread of HIV-Aids. Per-Anders Pettersson
Youths bathing in a water cistern in a rural area in Blood River, Natal Province, South Africa after celebrating the battle of Blood River, December 2004. Held annually on December 16th, the anniversary is the most important holiday in the Afrikaner calendar.Per-Anders Pettersson
A Zulu choir rehearsing before a performance to commemorate the battle of Blood River in Natal, South Africa between Afrikaners and Zulus at Ncome River in 1838. Each year both sides mark the anniversary. December 2004. Per-Anders Pettersson
Afrikaner children dressed in traditional clothing at a farm show in Orania, April 2004. The annual, three-day event attracts visitors from neighboring villages and cities.Per-Anders Pettersson
Fanie Botha, getting ready for church in December 2003. Fanie, a poor white farm worker all his life, moved to Orania, South Africa with his wife and twin daughters. A religious man, he attends APK, Afrikaans Protestant Church, and a conservative branch of NG Kerk, the Dutch Reformed Church. Per-Anders Pettersson
Twin brothers perform a dance during a late night session at a Jazz club in Diepkloof Hall in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 2005. The club has monthly sessions where people come to enjoy classic jazz music, eat and have a few drinks. People are encouraged to perform dance numbers to their favorite tunes. Soweto is South Africa’s largest township and it was founded about one hundred years to make housing available for black people south west of downtown Johannesburg. The estimated population is between 2-3 million.Per-Anders Pettersson
Men drink in an illegal bar (shebeen) in Site C, Khayelitsha, South Africa, June 2002.Per-Anders Pettersson
A woman cleans up the blood of a newly slaughtered goat, May 2005. She is graduating from a Sangoma ceremony in Soweto, South Africa. Many black South Africans consult a Sangoma, or traditional healer, who communicates with the ancestral spirits for guidance on treating patients and often prescribes herbal remedies. Per-Anders Pettersson
A policeman places a blanket over a man killed by gunfire in Khayelitsha, the largest black township outside Cape Town, South Africa, January 2008.Per-Anders Pettersson
Residents rush to save their belongings as a shack fire is raging in Duncan Village, a poor township outside East London in Eastern Cape province, South Africa, November 2005. It’s on of the poorest areas in South Africa. Fires are very common as the shacks are built very close to each other and people are using paraffin stoves, which easily fall over, and the fires spread quickly. Per-Anders Pettersson
Daniel Lieberman, a Flying Squad police officer arrests a suspected car thief on outside Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 1999. Flying Squad is a rapid response unit working in South Africa's larger cities, and they have a reputation for being hard on suspected criminals. South Africa has some of the highest crime statistics in the world, especially in carjackings, armed robberies and rape.Per-Anders Pettersson
Children wake in their one-roomed shack in Site B, Khayelitsha, South Africa, August 2001. Per-Anders Pettersson
Residents walk on a muddy road construction in Diepsloot a township outside Johannesburg, South Africa, January 2008. Diepsloot is the fastest growing township around Johannesburg as rural South Africans come to Johannesburg to look for work. They face difficulties finding work and housing. Many illegal immigrants from other African countries also live in Diepsloot and some of the residents complain that corrupt officials give foreigners with money houses quickly. Per-Anders Pettersson
Luxolo Mkwelo, age 19, stands in his room after coming home from a traditional manhood ceremony in Tshatshu, South Africa, August 2000. He spent six weeks in the bush learning to be a man. He was circumcised and elders guided him during the ceremony, which is to prepare them for adulthood. Former South African president Nelson Mandela went trough the ceremony when he was young. Per-Anders Pettersson
Women from Eastern Baptist Zionist Church pray during an outdoor service close to Orlando West in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, March 2005. They celebrated Easter weekend in Soweto.Per-Anders Pettersson
White right wing youth stand with their flags while waiting to demonstrate in the streets of Potchefstrom, South Africa, December 2004. Per-Anders Pettersson
Anneze and Carla Bornman, age 8, twin girls, drink lemonade after attending a church service in the Afrikaans Protestant Church in Orania, in the Northern Cape province, South Africa, December 1996. The twins attend CVO, a conservative Christian school in Orania, an all white town. About 600 Afrikaners live in the village and they celebrate their culture and keep traditions alive. They have chosen not to live in today’s South Africa; a country ran by a black government since 1994.Per-Anders Pettersson
Boys play on a concrete pipe in Site B Khayelitsha, a township about 35 kilometers outside Cape Town, South Africa, October 2002. Khayelitsha is one of the poorest and fastest growing townships in South Africa. People usually come from the rural areas in Eastern Cape province to find work as maids and laborers. Most people don't find work and the unemployment rate is very high, together with lot of violence and a growing HIV-Aids epidemic. Per-Anders Pettersson
Busisiwe Mfeka, 28, is dying of Aids. She rests in a wheelbarrow, as a hospice worker drops off her and her mother in Izingolweni, a rural village in Southern Natal, South Africa, November 2005. South Africa has one of the highest HIV/Aids infection rates worldwide and also the largest ARV drugs programme. Per-Anders Pettersson
Barbershop haircut on a road in Diepkloof, Soweto, South Africa, March 2005.Per-Anders Pettersson
A man hangs rugby shirts that have been laundered on a colorful wall with graffiti in Site C Khayelitsha, a township about 35 kilometers outside Cape Town, South Africa, July 2001. Per-Anders Pettersson
Twin girls attend an early morning church service at a Zion church in Site B Khayelitsha, South Africa, July 2001.Per-Anders Pettersson
Wealthy black South Africans wait for a fashion show at the Rand Club in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 2011. The Rand Club, A former private all male club during the Apartheid era. Here, the wealthy industrialists of the country networked, wined and dined. The club now allows female members. To see newly wealthy black people in the club is a sign on the new South Africa. Per-Anders Pettersson
Unidentified youths socialize at a festival in Auckland Park a suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 2002. Per-Anders Pettersson
Children play on a trampoline in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, November 2005. Soweto is the biggest township in South Africa, and has a population of about 3.5 million. Per-Anders Pettersson

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