Since 2011, American photojournalist Sarah Stacke has been documenting the Cape Town suburb of Manenberg, which was established for “colored” families in the 1960s by South Africa’s apartheid government. The local media has portrayed it as a site of poverty and gang violence, but Stacke presents a more nuanced, humanistic view in her project titled “Love from Manenberg,” which focuses on the life of one family, the Lotterings. Stacke says she began the project “from the perspective of what I shared with the individuals there—a search for meaning, the desire to belong and to love, the consequence of choice, the pain of loss.”
PDN: What drew you to South Africa in the first place?
Sarah Stacke: I was completing an independent study for my master’s degree, working with visual archives at the University of Cape Town. I knew I also wanted to pursue a personal photography project while I was there.
PDN: Why did you choose Manenberg over so many other places where people are living in difficult conditions?
SS: I was immediately drawn to the strong sense of family and loyalty the Lotterings displayed in the midst of a community facing many obstacles. Before Naomi Lottering brought me to Manenberg I had never heard of it, but soon learned of its history of apartheid-era activism and current reputation for gangs, poverty and drug abuse. After one day with the Lotterings in Manenberg, I knew I was in this story for the long haul.
PDN: How did you meet Naomi Lottering?
SS: Early in the project I was photographing a young man named Ishmael. He was friends with Naomi and I met her briefly through him. The first time I returned to South Africa following my initial visit in 2011, I was looking for Ishmael and ran into Naomi. She told me he had disappeared. We think he got arrested and was sent to jail in Bloemfontein, where he was from. We’ve never seen him again. After Ishmael’s disappearance my relationship with Naomi deepened.
PDN: You say you shared the struggles [of the people in Manenberg]—was there something specific in your life you were struggling with that led you to take on this project?
SS: I think a search for meaning, the desire to belong or to love, the consequence of choice, and the pain of loss are all struggles most people experience at some point in their lives, often at many points. I wasn’t battling anything specific, but I have wrestled with—and do wrestle with—all of those things in my life.
Debby Lottering [Naomi’s sister] and I have grown particularly close over the years. Using WhatsApp we discuss our daily lives and support each other through the highs and lows, which since 2011 have included all of the above and much more. We each became mothers, a first for me and a third for her. I lost my grandfather and my father had heart surgery. Debby has a new boyfriend and a full-time job. She endures gang fights that last for months. We worry about Naomi together. And naturally we laugh, too.
PDN: What has been the biggest challenge of this project, and how have you met it?
SS: Manenberg is a rich and complex community, but has been narrowly represented by mainstream media. One of the biggest challenges of this work is to represent all aspects of the community without letting the tragic outweigh the abundance of love, compassion, and resiliency that holds the Lotterings and the fabric of Manenberg together.
PDN: How have you funded the project?
SS: For the most part this project has been self-funded. It’s an investment on many levels including money, time, emotion and intellect.
PDN: How will you know when the project is finished, and what’s your plan for distributing it?
SS: I’d like to do a book at some point, but I’m not sure “Love From Manenberg” will ever truly be finished. I hope to be present with the Lotterings and the community for milestones and daily moments well into the future.
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