Still Existence an Exhibition by 2010/2011 Edward Ruiz Mentorship Recipient Thandile Zwelibanzi

Thandile Zwelibanzi’s Still Existence is a series that looks at the presence of informal traders on the streets of Johannesburg, in particular around one of the biggest taxi rank-cum-markets in the country. Zwelibanzi’s series begins with those trading at night, a significantly unsafe and quite isolated time for business on the streets of Johannesburg. Many of these traders have migrated from various parts of the continent and other parts of South Africa to the big city to make a living out of selling fruit, vegetables, sweets, or cigarettes. Zwelibanzi captures the individuals that stand on street corners for hours at a time and documents their makeshift stalls and easily transportable goods. Although they are present day after day for up to fifteen hours at a time, they leave little behind once packed up; and are prepared to disappear easily should the police arrive and begin one of their regular raids on ‘illegal’ traders.
These traders’ presence on the streets of Johannesburg is a definite claim of belonging, of ownership of space, however temporal and legally blurry. Their presence and the community they develop with other traders, local taxi officials, and the customers who buy from them regularly, create a specific network that spreads throughout the continent through trade lines and remittance flows. Zwelibanzi’s exhibition explores the ways in which individuals play their part in this mass migration, and how they maintain their social relationships, engage their historical ties, and renegotiate their spatial belonging.
Artist’s Statement
Before I came to Jozi (when I was around 7 years old) almost everyone I knew in the township talked positively about this city, it was referred to as “Jozi maboneng” in Sotho, which simply translates to 'Johannesburg in the lights'. The only time that I viewed the city was at night on our way from Eastern Cape with my parents, as the bus would pass near Jozi going to my township, Kagiso. What used to be very interesting for me were the Jozi lights, its view would be very glamorous, seeing it from a bus window.
When I did eventually enter into the city and the taxi dropped us in front of Noord street taxi rank, the city looked completely different from what I used to view from a bus window. The sun was hot and people were all over the show, everything seemed crazy. I soon learned that in the 1980s, the move of the financial district and the middle and upper classes out of the city centre, due to increasing levels of crime and movement of black people into the Jozi cityscape, meant that the city became a “no-go” area for wealthier people, but did allow for many small black business opportunities and African migrants to set up shops and a large informal sector.
What became intriguing for me again was seeing adults selling sweets to other adults and the way their trading stands were designed was very different from what I used to see in the township. The space was used differently and there were attempts to make it appealing as most stands were on the pavements. A local architect and Council official, Li Pernigger says pavements are now like sites “but they are sites like no sites you’ve ever seen” they are different in shapes, some are thin, long, wide and some are not paved at all. Informal traders were almost in each and every corner of the town with their trading stands selling sweets, cigarettes and other small objects. I became curious and concerned on how the informal traders use the space and also how the hell they earn their living through profit from selling sweets, cigarettes and other small objects? It seemed unreal.
These traders were always in their space of business almost at all times, from the morning when the taxi dropped me from home until at night when it took me back to my place of belonging. This triggered something about my childhood expectations about the city (many of which I came to no longer trust) and I began to make small conversations with them and began a photography project in 2009. It looked at the effort that they put into their business to sustain their lives paradoxically by sitting still at their trading stalls.
I wanted to know their role in our African landscape and to the constantly changing Jozi landscape, informal sector and what made them choose Jozi. With their temporary structures (plastic crates, cardboard boxes, ironing boards etc) they have redefined the space. Hanna Le Roux says, “What is being constructed in this reconstruction is not a new space but a new encounter with space, in time.” Some start personalizing the space, making 'land claims', placing ownership on the land. The Johannesburg CBD sidewalks have new social and recreational functions.
There are approximately 4000 street traders in the inner city of Johannesburg. Actually, there could be more than these. Informal trade is as old as the informal economy. It is the main source of job creation in Africa, providing between 20 and 75 percent of total employment in most countries.
But I am interested in the daily existence of these traders, of their place, their time and their self produced existence. I do this through portraits, street views, and investigations into their stalls. But most specifically I often do this at night. At night that’s when the city is taking a breather, its life is getting settled. Everything becomes different, the environment, atmosphere and city’s feel and mode becomes completely different from daytime. It all came back from what I used to view when I was a kid on a bus window.
Reference: Kate Tissington (2009). The Business of Survival: Informal Traders in Inner City Johannesburg.
About Thandile Zwelibanzi
Thandile Zwelibanzi was born in Willovale, Eastern Cape in 1987. He grew up and went to school in Kagiso in Gauteng, where he still lives. Zwelibanzi completed a Foundation Course in photography at the Market Photo Workshop in 2008 and an Intermediate Course in 2009. In 2010, he was awarded a residency at the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts, for tewo weeks, in Salzburg, Austria. Also in 2010, he became the sixth recipient of the Edward Ruiz Mentorship at the Market Photo Workshop. He has participated in a number of group shows including In Transit (Johannesburg 2008), Diversity (GTZ) (Berlin 2010 and Pretoria 2011) and Dialogue South Africa - Austria (Johannesburg 2010). In 2010, the body of work Still Existence was published in Camera Austria International No.110.
About the Market Photo Workshop
For over twenty years, the Market Photo Workshop has played a pivotal role in the training of South Africa’s photographers, ensuring that visual literacy reaches neglected and marginalised parts of our society. Since it was founded in 1989, by world-renowned photographer David Goldblatt, the Photo Workshop has been an agent of change and representation, informing photographers, visual artists, educators, students and broader communities of trends, issues, and debates in photography and visual culture.
The Photo Workshop offers courses in photography and training, as well as multi-layered projects and interactions that respond to the complex backgrounds of education, culture, and identity, within a contemporary understanding of photography and the social conditions of South Africa. The training courses offered include a Foundation Course, an Intermediate Course. In addition to this, the Market Photo Workshop offers two full-time year long courses: an Advanced Programme and a Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Programme. Many of the students that attend courses at the Market Photo Workshop are from low income backgrounds and rely on bursaries to be able to further their studies in photography. Alumni of the Market Photo Workshop include internationally acclaimed photographers Jodi Bieber, Zanele Muholi, Lolo Veleko, Sabelo Mlangeni and Musa Nxumalo.
The Market Photo Workshop also runs a number of Public Programmes, which are a series of events involving and directed at professional photographers, visual artists, educators, students as well as the broader public. These methods, and contemporary ways of working and thinking in South African photography practice through exposure to a broad understanding of visual culture as well as a networking platform that encourages critical thinking and engagements.
Showcasing a number of high profile local and international photographers, as well as student and alumni photography work, the Market Photo Workshop has been able to build a strong and consistent audience base around our gallery, ‘The Photo Workshop Gallery’ in Newtown, which is on the same premises as the school. Since
2005, when the gallery was initially launched, the kind of platform it has engendered encourages not only emerging students to experience and enter into professional practice, but has distilled a new type of photographic practice amongst the greater artistic community. Various critical discourses, especially around the role documentary photography, have been stimulated by the multitude of exhibitions that have shown at The Photo Workshop Gallery creating dynamic interactions between students and the greater photography community.
About the Edward Ruiz Mentorship
The Edward Ruiz Mentorship was established to help launch the career of a promising photographer. The mentorship is aimed at recognising and developing potential in photographers who have achieved sufficient competence to put together a body of work that is coherent and well conceived. The mentorship awards the recipient with the financial and infrastructural support needed to develop a substantial body of photography work over the course of a year.
The body of work will be exhibited as a solo exhibition at The Photo Workshop Gallery*. The recipient also has the opportunity to work closely with a suitable mentor, who will provide guidance on the intended project. The mentor, identified by the recipient and the Market Photo Workshop is a professional practicing photographer. Past mentors have included David Goldblatt, Jo Ractliffe, John Fleetwood, Michelle Loudikis and Jean Brundrit.
This mentorship programme was established to commemorate the life of renowned photojournalist Edward Ruiz, a native New Yorker and freelance journalist who photographed the people and stories of South Africa from 1999.
Edward was an energetic photographer with great investigative skills and admirable commitment. To uphold and continue the great contribution Edward made to South African photography, the mentorship programme aims to develop photographers who show potential.
Previous recipients:
2005 – Vathiswa Ruselo
2006 – Sabelo Mlangeni
2007 – Mimi Ng’ok
2008 – Musa Nxumalo
2009 – Sam Simons
2010 – Thandile Zwelibanzi

Dates: 3 August – 1 September 2011
Time: 18h00

For more information contact:
2 President Street Newtown
Entrance Bus Factory
Johannesburg 2001
P O Box 8656 Johannesburg 2000
Tel: +27 (0)11 834 1444 T
Fax: +27 (0)11 834 1447 F
Market Photo Workshop is a division of The Market Theatre Foundation
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Date published: 
Friday, 22 July, 2011
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