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.
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.
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.
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