Change the world


The compelling photographic exhibition, 'Between States of Emergency', that documents the work of photographers who took a stand against the atrocities of the apartheid regime opens at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University's (NMMU) Bird Street Art Gallery tomorrow.

The exhibition, which will run until 19 May, is hosted by the University after it was approached by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and forms a significant part of the University’s relaunch and rebranding into the next stage of transformation.

The exhibition captures South Africa’s political landscape from 21 July 1985 to 7 June 1990, and the apartheid government’s frenzied and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to quell political dissent.

Curated by renowned photographer Robin Comley, the exhibition will showcase images taken by Alf Khumalo, Rafs Mayet, Trevor Samson and 37 other photographers and journalists, including NMMU’s Executive Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economic Sciences, Dr Ismail Lagardien.

“Our visual concept of history would be a shadowland, vague outlines, without the courage and tenacity of photographers, and in the late 1980s, South African photographers truly came of age in laying before the eyes of the world evidence of this country’s appalling abuses,” said Comley.

“Ismail Lagardien’s photograph of Firoz Cachalia’s arrest at Wits embodies much of what 1980s South Africa represented: defiance, brutality, courage, duplicity, anger, betrayal, injustice and endurance.”

Lagardien, who will be a guest speaker at the exhibition launch event said: “I am not sure I belong among the people whose work is part of this exhibition. There are some truly remarkable photographers, and great works of social documentary on display – and I was a rather average photojournalist.”

“Still, this was an important period in our history, an era that should not be forgotten, if only so we never return to the violence and breakdown that marked the era. I should say, then, that it is an honour to be among the journalists and photographers who worked during that difficult period.”

The apartheid regime responded to soaring opposition in the mid-1980s by imposing on South Africa a series of States of Emergency. The emergency regulations prohibited journalists from being present when police acted against protestors. Those who dared to expose the daily nationwide brutality by security forces risked getting arrested.

The exhibition speaks to how, while documenting the stories of South Africans during the apartheid era, photographers were shot at, arrested, persecuted and killed. Despite this, these photographers made the courageous choice to defy the system by demonstrating to the world, from behind the lens, the harsh realities of what apartheid meant and how it functioned on a day-to-day basis.

NMMU senior Arts and Culture manager Michael Barry said hosting the exhibition was a significant move for the University, which will later this year rebrand itself as Nelson Mandela University.

“The exhibition assists in establishing a good relationship with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which is an important link to the Mandela name that we are now adopting. It forms part of the protracted launch and branding of our university into the next stage of transformation,” he said.

“The significance for our department is that the exhibition is the beginning of the development of its new mandate, which is to develop an institutional culture that reflects our mission statement, namely to be an African university with particular and specific values similar to those Nelson Mandela espoused.”

This exhibition honours all the photographers and remembers those who are no longer with us.

  • The exhibition opens at 6pm tomorrow and can be viewed from 9:30 to 3pm on weekdays until 19 May.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777