Sauda Dhlabo's 'The Forgotten People' zooms in on democracy and the state of SA

Sauda Dhlabo is a self-taught photographer who has zoomed into the plight of impoverished South Africans who are yet to taste the fruits of democracy.

A picture from Sauda Dhlabo's latest exhibition The Forgotten People. Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG – “I believe we fail ourselves when we say the government that's like calling upon an imaginary friend, accountability will get lost. When we see the people as humans like we are, then we can say humanity is failing. Yes, the people we elect seem to have other priorities but we too as civilians have a duty to perform for humanity. We, too, have to accept our contributions to the demise of others,” said Sauda Dhlabo to Eyewitness News when asked whether he thought South Africa’s government has failed the people.

Sauda Dhlabo is a self-taught photographer who has zoomed into the plight of impoverished South Africans who are yet to taste the fruits of democracy.

“The proximity to where I live drove my actions to pursue the informal settlement. It is in the midst of a well-planned township that brought questions about its existence,” said Dhlabo about why he chose this subject matter for his exhibition.

In his latest exhibition, The Forgotten People, which is currently on display at the South African State Theatre until 29 May, Dhlabo’s exhibit is on the people of Phuma Silwe, an informal settlement in Tembisa, where he captures the dire conditions of those that are awaiting freedom live.

When Eyewitness News asked him what he thought freedom was, he said: “An atmosphere of limitless interactions. Where one can interact with anyone without being judged.”

In a series of photographs, The Forgotten People highlight a sense of pain and joy in the people from a section of this land called home, Phuma Silwe, a self-sufficient community filled with vibrancy and often violence. Here, native South Africans live in squalor and Sauda’s images are a reminder that the long road to freedom is still long and that the more those in power misuse it, the further the goal post moves.

“Years have passed since South African natives broke free from the chains of apartheid. For most of the early period, joy filled the air. Change and prosperity filled the South African native spirit. Those who filled the warm seats of Parliament, those in their circles have and continue to enjoy the fruits the rainbow nation is producing. Those far from them appear to be drowning in quicksand. Their hopes remain dire, worse with each passing day.”

Dhlabo is a Tanzanian-born street and documentary photographer based in Gauteng. His father, an Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran and his mother a teacher, Dhlabo said that this gave him a unique blend of black consciousness and an interest in learning. He is inspired by the likes of Ernest Cole and Kevin Carter.

“I was influenced by a photo by Kevin Carter - the Vulture and the child. That image was and still is embedded in my subconscious. Other influences such as my father and the black consciousness works of Bantu Biko made it an easy decision to choose photography as a medium of storytelling."

The self-taught photographer has had exhibitions at the Joburg Fringe in 2020 and 2021. He took part in the Save the District Six Museum Auction, where his photograph was sold for the benefit of the revival of the museum. Sauda wishes to work with non-profits and news organisations across the African continent to bring awareness to social issues which impact Africa and its people.

“Currently, I am in pursuit of news-related assignments. I would love to be like my idols, Kevin Carter and Ernest Cole. While I pursue that, I am in a process of a street photography project titled In 5km Radius."

The Forgotten People is open for free public viewing at the South African State Theatre’s Opera Marble Foyer until 29 May.

As a parting shot, Dhlabo said that he hoped that the public left his exhibition having learned a few lessons and viewing the world differently.

“We should not forget that we are human first before our titles. That an individual is a collective of all human experiences. How we interact with each other can build or destroy.”