Beyond Bars

It lies at the foot of Muizenberg Mountain, tucked away between the Steenberg wine fields and the mystical Tokai forest. Notorious for its “Numbers Gangs” and as unforgiving as the Cape of Storms once were. Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison.

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I had a rear opportunity to photograph some of its inmates at a HIV awareness program held in the prison’s recreational centre. Normally it is strictly forbidden to show the faces of its convicted residents but seeing as I was invited for the occasion, permission was granted.

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Some of South Africa’s most dangerous criminals are held in Pollsmoor Prison. The prison has a staff of 1278 and the capacity to accommodate 4336 offenders, but the current inmate population is over 7000. This figure fluctuates daily.

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On my visit to the facility, there was a calm mood among the inmates. Even though there was a strong presents of prison guards, the prisoners spoke openly about their past lives and present treatment.

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The gang related tattoos was visible on most of the inmate’s necks, arms and faces.

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Gangsterism is a potent feature of Pollsmoor Prison life, and gangs are segregated into three separate sections on a single floor. The “Numbers Gangs” consists of the 28’s, 27’s and 26’s and dates back to the 1890’s.

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Nelson Mandela was the most famous inmate of the prison. He describes Pollsmoor Prison as the truth of Oscar Wilde’s haunting line about the tent of blue that prisoners call the sky. Mandela first spent 18 years on Robben Island, before being transferred to Pollsmoor prison in 1982.

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Inmates spend nearly all day in their overcrowded cells, and spend only one hour a day having outdoor exercise in enclosed courtyards. Little exercise occurs during this hour, since gang leaders utilise this time to communicate with prisoners in other cells, exchange drugs and mete out punishment to those in other cells. Any inmate who dares to exercise is called to attention before the gang leaders and may face punishment.

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On this specific occasion, inmates were rewarded for their good behavior during the HIV awareness project with a braai (barbecue) and a stage performance that focuses on life after prison. After spending some time talking to the prisoners, it dawned on me that sadly most of the prisoners that I have met are convicted of such harrowing crimes, that they will never see freedom again.

© Photos: Armand Hough

 

Assault on the Media

On Thursday the 21st of August myself and journalist Xolani Koyana were doing a few assignments between Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats. We decided to go and look if the recent evicted residents close to Town 3 in Khayelitsha where rebuilding their houses and if possible, to get some pictures. As we drove up Mew Way to Baden Powell Drive we unknowingly drove into the wrong end of a stand-off between police and the evicted protesters. When we saw that the road was blocked with telephone poles and realised that the situation was not safe, about 40 protesters were running towards us with weapons and stones. By the time I managed to turn the car around we were already surrounded and Xolani were explaining to the crowd in Xhosa that we are from the newspapers. Despite our efforts and one brave individual amongst the crowd that tried to calm the situation, all the windows started to shatter and we felt the full force of the protest before driving away. This was an unprovoked attack in a situation that we face on a weekly basis and never have I personally experienced such hostility in Khayelitsha before. I urge other members of the media and the general public to be vigilant when passing through these areas and to report protests actions on social media and the authorities. Thank you to my colleagues at the Cape Times and the management of The Independent Newspapers for their quick reaction and support yesterday. Unfortunately I did not have time to take any other photos as events unfolded but I’m glad that nothing more serious happened to us.

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Meeting Willy Mason

About ten years ago I was living and working in London as a van driver. It was a time in my life rich with nomadic friends and soulful music. During this period I grew fond of instrumental music as most of our social gatherings involved live music.

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At one such get-together, I noticed a song that played softly in the ambient background on the VH1 music channel. The track was called “Oxygen” for a young American Artist named Willy Mason. As quick as that I was hooked and began to follow his career.

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For the past two nights, the singer-songwriter from New York, serenaded music lovers at a secret soirée in Cape Town.

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The location? A living room in Oranjezicht.

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Renowned for selling out stadiums and performing in front of thousands of fans, the 29-year-old decided to take on a more intimate setting when he performed in front of only 60 people at a house concert in Oranjezicht.

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“The audience really had time to bond with him more than if they were among a crowd of thousands of people,” Gerhard Maree, event organiser said yesterday. House concerts, not a new concept, have only just started to take off in South Africa, Maree said.

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Maree and his team run City Soirée, a platform which facilitates artists and fans to organise and host events.

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“It’s a lot like a house party – you can’t compare it to a large scale concert at all. The time one has with the artist is very exclusive. Sipping your glass of wine or juice, one gets to internalise every second,” Maree said.

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Mason and US rock band Rival Sons performed for the first time in South Africa, at the OppiKoppi music festival earlier this month.

© Photos by Armand Hough

Langa in Ruins

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Langa is one of the many areas in South Africa that were designated for Black Africans before the apartheid era. It is the oldest of such suburbs in Cape Town and was the location of much resistance to apartheid.

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On the morning of July the 9th, residence of Langa staged a sit in when they obstructed all roads in and out of the township and prohibited their fellow residence from going to work by stoning their cars.

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While it was originally dubbed a housing protest, it morphed throughout the day, with some residents chanting for the victims of the Marikana “massacre”, others for better living conditions.

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The township was essentially shut down by an angry mob that ran through the streets, looting shops and lighting fires. Myself and four other photographers from various agencies were escorted into the township beyond police lines by a respected community leader.

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We followed a group of several hundred to a thousand protesters from the centre of the township towards the taxi rank as they burned, looted and vandalised the main road. As the crowd became more violent, the police’s tactical response unit moved in to disperse the protest with rubber bullets and stun grenades. Moments later a local lady and her two dogs walked across the road to lock the steel gates of the convenient store that she was managing. A large rock was thrown towards her from the looting protesters to what she unexpectedly responded to by pulling a chrome 9mm pistol that was concealed from her waist and pointed it franticly at the crowd.

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The initial reaction of the protesters was to “duck and cover” but soon turned more merciless as she was pelted with rocks and glass bottles from all direction, one of which connected with one of her dogs that was devotedly barking at her attackers.

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She was chased for a while towards her house but escaped without any serious injury I was told.

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The looting of stores continued and the protesters became more destructive as they started to target vehicles and shops of foreign business owners.

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Shops, barricades and vehicles were burning out of control after all emergency services were kept away from the township for their own safety. There was a “mob mentality” feeling amongst the crowd and the eerie sound of the burning car’s horn that somehow got jammed and squealed in the distance between the constant thuds of stun grenades.

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The aftermath was that of a warzone.

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It didn’t take too long for police to move in and stabilize the situation to a certain extent. That gave a Somali shop owner the time to assess the damage to his store. Charles Quethu 35 lost everything in his store and two vehicles that were damaged beyond repair. He was crying when I left him.

© Photos by Armand Hough

A Cold Photo Essay

Every once in a while I get to shoot something other than the usual murder, politics and mayhem. The first “real” snow of the year covered the Western Cape mountain regions as if it was Christmas in Lapland. Well for this boy from sunny Africa who use to get exited when I helped my mother scrape off the ice out of our freezer, it was a winter wonderland.

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After my initial track up the mountain trails to find people playing in the snow, the clouds opened up towards the Alp like peaks in the back and I was treated to a view that took my breath away. I wondered around the farms and found this frozen bath tub that was used as a watering hole for livestock. Not a very newsworthy image from an editors point of view but from a photographic perspective, this was my photo of the day.

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©Photos by Armand Hough

“We demand better free housing!”

Residence of Ocean View in Cape Town, protested yesterday with burning tyres and stone throwing in the streets surrounding the Mountain View government housing building site.

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The SAPS and Metro Police was standing by to calm the situation with none lethal force.

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Construction workers from the government housing development were trapped inside and barricaded themselves inside in fear of their own safety.

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The Ocean View protesters continued blocking roads and burning rubble till late last night. In most service delivery and political protests, there are serious issues that needs to be addressed from authorities and members of the community and each situation has two side that needs to be acknowledged.

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Unfortunately too much time is wasted by “hard liners” that think they can resolve issues with violence and disturbing public order. In this specific protest, I witnessed people that can not be better described as gangster and drug addicts, hijack a protest that might have had valid grounds and deserved public attention. But the Ocean View demonstration remains without status.

©Photos by Armand Hough

Article in GroundUp: http://www.groundup.org.za/article/calm-returns-ocean-view-after-violent-protests_1843

Come Hell or High Water

Squalo is one of the newest informal settlements on the Cape Flats and is situated in the dugout of a landfill site next to Mitchell’s Plain. Squalo is also one of the poorest settlements with no RDP (Reconstruction and Development Program) housing and no permanent or legal building structures.

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Due to the geographical layout of the landscape, Squalo is very susceptible to flooding during torrential rains.

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During every year’s rainy season that the Cape of Storms launches towards its inhabitants, disaster management teams in the southern Cape and Klein Karoo have their hands full evacuating thousands of people trapped in flooded homes. Motorists also feel the brute force of mother nature when mudslides collapse mountain passes and storm drains fails.

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During my last visit to the area, I encountered an unexpected few smiling faces. Amongst the tragedy and heartaches, a couple of children found amusement in playing in the flooded pathways.

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Then a boy pointed to a rainbow that hung bright with beautiful colours in the sky and speechless the people looked at the marvel from the hand of God in these unforgiving times.

© Photos by Armand Hough

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