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Sipho Mpongo – “My pictures liberate me and the people around me”


My name is Sipho Mpongo. I am a 21 year old photographer from Langa Township, Cape Town. I live with my mother’s family in a shared flat with two different families. I am the only one in my family who has made it to university. I love telling people stories; most importantly stories about the contemporary issues in South Africa and around the world.

I started taking photographs with my mother’s phone when I was still at Thembani Primary School. This is where I was selected to study at LEAP Science and Maths School in Pinelands. Through LEAP, I found my love for photography despite taking Accounting or Science. I refused to conform. I was used to seeing bad things happening in front of me in Langa, but there was nothing I could do about it. In 2011 when I was in grade 11 I really figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I decided that I wanted to be a photo-journalist because I wanted to tell the stories of my everyday life in Langa Township.

2I joined Iliso Labantu, a mentorship program which provides an extensive training in photography for photographers from disadvantaged areas. Since I was in high school I wanted to document my life in a different light; to prove to myself that there is a better life by challenging and engaging with the hard reality I faced every day. Through the mentorship program, I received a scholarship to study advanced photography at The Cape Town School of Photography for two years. I was really happy to study photography professionally but I had no idea of how expensive it was going to be. My family fights to make ends meet every day. I could not always count on my family to support my expensive dream. I was the top student at The Cape Town School of Photography in 2013. I really struggled but I worked hard.

I had tough time trying to balance my life. Photography enabled my mind to see things that were affecting me and the people around me.

4I started exploring families and family life in Langa by trying to understand the idea of love and of loss; hoping to show a different perspective of Langa. Langa has been documented unfairly by many storytellers and as an insider, I have the responsibility to show the truth and to also show it in a way that enhances the lives of people in Langa.

I recently completed a four-month road-trip across South Africa, documenting the “Born free” generation. Being a “born free” myself I learnt a lot from this journey. I am happy because I won a prestigious MAGNUM Foundation Fellowship Award. This award allows me to study Photography and Human Rights at New York University in recognition of my  documentation of the born free generation in South Africa.

I am the second photographer from Africa to be awarded the scholarship and the first young photographer from Africa in the program. This means a lot to me as I will learn and engage with different aspects of life and academic study intensely. It will be my first time out of the country.

“I am a young black South African trying to understand my country and myself, I read Steve Biko in high school … The pictures I produce are a way of liberating myself and people around me”- Sipho Mpongo

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