Jasmine Waddell uses photography as a vehicle for raising awareness about rural poverty in South Africa. Her photographs hang in private collections throughout the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa. Her exhibition at Rhodes House, Oxford, England, was the first ever in the building’s Rotunda Room and attracted a visit and private viewing by Nelson Mandela.
The LIP: Where is Africa Now?
Jasmine: It’s difficult for me to answer the question from a personal perspective. I know the reality of South Africa now and I know the history of South Africa then and tidbits about the rest of the continent from books, television and friends who, like me, were children taking it all in as uncritical observers. I ventured to the Wild Coast region of South Africa once in 2002 on a pilot research trip with a tourist camera and open mind. The trip changed my life.
On one school tour, I walked into a dilapidated classroom and witnessed a group of children, none older than 10, huddled over a self-made fire of broken school desks and chairs. While my research trip took me to South Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities, as Countee Cullen notes in Incident, “Of all the things that happened there / That’s all that I remember.” I could not stop thinking about the rural school.
My experience of Africa was of an unequal and bifurcated place with opulent haves and desperate have nots. When I returned in 2003, I was armed with a research agenda, a professional camera and a discerning eye. Little had changed. Within one week, I was listening to women crying about not having food and two days later I was careening up a mountain side on a motorbike to a million rand mansion in Hout Bay. But when I had my camera, I saw another side, beyond the binary of Black and White, beyond the binaries of colour (ngaphaya kwebala), and beyond the binary of rich and poor. When I aimed at my subjects they shot back with tenacity and uncompromising hope. I can say that my experience of Africa now is one of a people pushing to break free of the chains of history. Through my camera lens, I saw a powerfully hopeful future waiting to happen.