Naomi Lottering with her son, Shaquille, at the Ark, a rehabilitation center in Faure that is 15 miles from Manenberg, in December 2012. (Sarah Stacke)

“In this place, you can’t ask why,” said Debby Lottering of her home town, Manenberg.

A suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, Manenberg was established in the Cape Flats, a vast low-lying sand dune, during the late 1960s by the apartheid government as an area for Coloured families. Marginalized by geography, history and a dominant culture, today most of Manenberg’s estimated 35,000 to 52,000 residents live in overcrowded and problematic conditions. There are around 8,000 households in Manenberg, 52 percent of which are headed by women.

Nearly 25 years since the end of apartheid, Manenberg has not seen the fruits of democracy. Opportunities to change or improve circumstances remain few and far between. Debby, 28, and her sister Naomi, 31, were raised in Manenberg inside a one-bedroom flat by their father, Franz, and mother, Harriet, who died in the early 2000s.

I first photographed Manenberg in June 2011. Through the years, many individuals have opened their lives and shared their community with me with extraordinary candor, especially Naomi and Debby. The sisters’ personalities are as different as the lives they’re pursuing.

Sisters Naomi (left) and Debby Lottering pray together inside Debby’s home before leaving for a Saturday night church service in Manenberg in April 2017. (Sarah Stacke)

Debby Lottering and her son, Meezie, watch as Meezie’s older brother (not pictured) walks to school in March 2014. In August 2013, all schools in Manenberg were closed after a spike in gang violence that killed nearly 50 people. The gangs often shoot at the same time that kids and adults commute to school and work. Bullet-resistant fences now surround all schools. (Sarah Stacke)

Debby Lottering visits with her neighbor, Luna, in Manenberg in March 2014. (Sarah Stacke)

A member of the Hard Livings gang, one of the oldest and largest gangs in Manenberg, shows his tattoo in March 2014. Because of relentless gang violence, Manenberg was declared a “red danger zone” in mid-2015 by the health department, and for several months ambulances were not allowed in the area unless escorted by the police. (Sarah Stacke)

Naomi is smart, fierce, funny and vulnerable. She and I met in Sea Point, an affluent Cape Town neighborhood where Naomi was living on the streets. She brought me to Manenberg for the first time and introduced me to her family. She started spending nights on the streets in her early teens to escape the predictability of home. She experimented with alcohol, drugs and sex. The temporary escape they provided drew her further and further away. For years she’s checked in with her family when she felt like it, sometimes every other week, sometimes not for months at a time. Debby and Franz love her unconditionally. Recently she’s been sick from complications of HIV and tuberculosis and has been sticking close to home.

Debby is strong as a rock, loyal, clear-eyed and full of faith. A single mother of three, she works 50 hours a week at Pinto’s, a restaurant roughly an hour away by bus from Manenberg. When her kids aren’t at school, they go to their grandfather Franz’s home until she picks them up. Debby and I chat almost daily on WhatsApp. We talk about our families, our dogs (her dog is the mother of my dog), the gossip from Manenberg and the news of where and who the gangs are shooting.

Meezie and Zobie Lottering, Debby’s children, play with their Grandpa Franz in the living room of Franz’s home, where he lives with his third wife and her children in Manenberg in March 2014. Franz sees his grandchildren almost daily, taking on child-care duties that allow his daughter, Debby, to work longer hours. (Sarah Stacke)

A message taped on the kitchen wall inside a home in Manenberg in January 2015. (Sarah Stacke)

Meezie Lottering inside his grandfather’s home in Manenberg in April 2017. (Sarah Stacke)

Meezie Lottering searches the drawers inside his home in Manenberg in March 2017. (Sarah Stacke)

Naomi Lottering kicks at a fire outside Greta Court, where she grew up and where her father still lives in Manenberg, in July 2012. (Sarah Stacke)

The community is largely recognized in South African media for its social problems — unemployment, crime, substance abuse and above all, relentless gang violence. Over one week in mid-August 2017, 128 shootings were recorded. Known as one of the country’s most violent places, faith and fortitude help the people of Manenberg look to the future.

Naomi Lottering visits her father’s house shortly before being hospitalized for complications from tuberculosis and HIV in Manenberg in April 2017. (Sarah Stacke)

The Filadelfia Tabernakel Church at night in September 2014. Pastor Morris, who leads the church, has been in Manenberg since 1975. Pastor Morris works with many gang members in the area and says, “If you save a gangster’s soul, they won’t hold a gun, they will hold a bible.” (Sarah Stacke)

Naomi Lottering inside her father’s home shortly after disclosing to the photographer that she has HIV in Manenberg in July 2012. (Sarah Stacke)

Debby (right) and her older sister, Naomi, in their childhood home in Manenberg in July 2012. (Sarah Stacke)

Naomi Lottering spending time with her niece, Zipporah, and nephew, Meezie in June 2015. Naomi spends most of her time living on the streets, but whenever she is in Manenberg, her family welcomes her home. (Sarah Stacke)

Shipping containers used as homes in Manenberg in March 2014. During the apartheid, many of Manenberg’s first residents were removed from thriving neighborhoods near Cape Town’s city center and relocated to Manenberg. In recent years, attempts have been made by the city to improve living conditions by renovating the rowhouses built in the 1960s. Gang violence in Manenberg prevented the completion of the renovations and families were forced to settle in shipping containers for up to a year that were intended for short-term use. Many containers housed four to 12 family members. (Sarah Stacke)

Follow Sarah Stacke on Instagram @sarah_stacke

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