SUNDAY TIMES - Capturing Manenberg: Love in a time of violence
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Sunday Times Lifestyle By Sarah Stacke, 2016-05-01 00:00:00.0

Capturing Manenberg: Love in a time of violence

Violence prevented the completion of renovations to housing built in the ’60s, forcing families to live in containers for up to a year
Image: Sarah Stacke

Photographer Sarah Stacke has been documenting the residents of Manenberg for five years. As her exhibition opens in Cape Town, she tells us about her admiration for this place, infamous as one of South Africa's most violent areas, and its ordinary people

'In this place, you can't ask 'why?'" says Debby Lottering, 26, of her hometown, Manenberg. Known as one of South Africa's most violent places, faith and fortitude are all that help the people of Manenberg to face the future.

I first photographed Manenberg in June 2011. Over the years many individuals have opened their lives and shared their community with me. I am particularly grateful to the Lottering family. The title of this ongoing series, Love From Manenberg, is in part a reference to the love the Lottering family has for each other. The title also describes the relationships I have formed with those pictured, and others, while working in Manenberg.

Love From Manenberg is a story about love and loyalty and the choices we make in the circumstances we have.

"I've never been homeless, I'm just a drifter," says Naomi Lottering, Debby's 30-year-old sister who lives on the streets of Cape Town. Naomi started spending nights on the streets in her early teens.

It was an escape from boredom and constraints; a chance to live without the predictability of school and starting and ending every day in bed next to her little sister. She experimented with alcohol, drugs, and sex; the escape they provided drew her further and further away.

"Being on the streets ... that's freedom for me," says Naomi. She struggles with substance abuse and doesn't contact her family for weeks or months at a time, but when she comes home to Manenberg she is welcomed by Debby and their father, Franz.

"Now that I'm grown I've gotten used to the sound of the bullets and the gunshots," says Debby, who is raising three children in Manenberg. "The violence and gangsterism is affecting our lives, but further than that Manenberg is a very good place to live; a peaceful and loving community."

To support her children, Debby works 40 to 50 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant an hour's commute from Manenberg. She has been saving to secure her family's future. The lure of brand-name sneakers and other desires can attract a young person into a gang.

Debby sees providing these items as one way of keeping her sons from crime. "I feel more like a mother to my children now I can do things on my own like go to the shop, buy this, get that. I'm able to manage myself. I'm not dependent on other people," she says

Ashwin Pietersen, a member of the Hard Livings gang - one of the most powerful gangs in Manenberg - was killed outside his home by a rival gang in December 2014. His mother, Charmaine, told me recently: "The years go on and the months go on. We know he's in a safe place. I don't need to worry where Ashwin is at night if they start shooting or if there is violence in Manenberg. We can sleep peacefully now."

Zipporah Lottering, aged one, visits her father who lives in Philippi, 6km from Manenberg. Kazuba sees his daughter once every two months. Image: Sarah Stacke

Ashwin was a son, brother, uncle, friend, boyfriend and, for better or worse, was looked up to by many youth. Nicknamed Guru, he was often seen moving through Manenberg with a crowd of kids, friends and dogs.

Charmaine describes him as though he were still alive: "He's quiet, he likes to make jokes. He likes birds; he builds cages for birds, and he likes dogs. If he sees a dog on the road that is sick, he brings it home and nurses it until it heals." She laughs: "One day, Ashwin will bring a horse into this house."

Like Debby, Jessica Adams is raising three children on her own. She sends her oldest daughter to school outside Manenberg where her education is not interrupted by gang violence. Jessica hopes all her children will finish school, yet the lesson most important to her is taught from home: "Never forsake others. If somebody needs your help, always be willing to help."

Poverty, substance abuse, gangs - the people of Manenberg are infinitely more complicated than the facts of those things. Nobody is any one thing all the time, it is what is in the heart that binds us.

• Love From Manenberg runs from May 5-27 at Youngblood Gallery, Bree Street, Cape Town. Join Debby Lottering and Sarah Stacke at 5pm on May 5 for a Q&A.