A Peasants Struggle

A Peasants Struggle has its heart placed firmly in the South African AmaPondo people’s decades old struggle to maintain custodianship over their heritage and land, and for their right to self-determination.

It borrows its name from Govan Mbeki’s book “The Peasants Revolt”, which chronicled the rural uprisings around South Africa in the early 1960’s against the imposition of Apartheid laws on the primarily self-governing rural Bantustans of the time, particularly the AmaPondo people’s uprisings in the former Transkei region. The AmaPondo uprisings of the early 1960’s in South Africa saw 4769 people held in custody by the Apartheid Government, with an eventual 2067 brought to trial, scores shot dead by the Apartheid police, a general state of emergency declared across the whole region and 30 AmaPondo people sentenced to death for their role in the uprisings.

This David vs Goliath struggle for the right to self-determination by the AmaPondo people is once again being waged – this time in a decade long struggle against the company Transworld Energy and Mineral Resources, a South African Subsidiary of the Australian listed mining company Mineral Commodities, who have their eyes firmly fixed on a rich seam of ilmenite that sits under the sands of the pristine northern Wild Coast region of the Eastern Cape province. The open caste mine is proposed to stretch for some 22kms along some of the most pristine and delicate coastal environments in South Africa, an area in which the AmaPondo people have lived in harmony with and been responsible custodians of for centuries.

These images form part of an ongoing body of work which consists of a collection of natural portraits and observations of the AmaPondo people and their environment, unchanged from day-to-day routines, except for the wearing of gas masks as an act of protest against their exploitation and potential loss of way of life.

The use of gas masks is highly symbolic. The gas mask in popular iconography has come to represent both oppression and defiance. It’s use by the military and State; interestingly most often recently in situations involving citizen’s rebellions, has led it to be associated with repression and dictatorship. However its symbolism has been subverted by its popular use in art, particularly street art, which carries at its core the concept of rebellion. This has led to the gas mask becoming a contemporary symbol for unwavering resistance against oppression.

A Peasants Struggle raises other questions - around communities right to self-determination, their relationship to the land and their environment, pollution and the exploitation of the natural environment, ethical questions around the right of commercial interests versus communal and ancestral rights.

The unnerving combination of gas masks and rural setting also has the unintended consequence of creating an imagined future world devoid of humanity, of laughter and tears and smiles and expressions - of human emotion. An apocalyptic future ruled by mistrust and stripped of the very essence of what makes us human.