In the 1990s, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s mother took a job as a live-in domestic worker in a then-white-dominated settlement on the far southern fringes of Johannesburg. He wasn’t allowed inside the house she was working in. The racial snub made him curious. What secrets lay beyond the stoep (the stoop)? What riches did the homes of Daleside’s mostly white and seeming- ly affluent inhabitants hide? Years later, accompanied by a white French photographer friend, Cyprien Clément-Delmas, Sobekwa returned to Daleside to find out.
Sobekwa and Clément-Delmas’s project aimed to document the town’s transformation. The result is a series of stark portraits of everyday life in this forgotten—and now racially mixed—settlement near the Klip River; a community which, since the post-apartheid remapping of South Africa’s towns and villages, has been absorbed into the sprawling Midvaal municipality. The artists did not explicitly set out to examine white privilege, but their study of Daleside offers an intimate study of its afterlife in South Africa’s ambiguous present.
Daleside was famed for its dusty open-pit dolomite mine. Gold, too, secured the region’s fortunes, although following a century of ruthless extraction, that wealth is now in decline. In the mid-1940s, construction began on a steel plant 25 miles southwest of Daleside, operated by South Africa’s state-sponsored Iron & Steel Industrial Corporation (Iscor). The plant was part of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle of heavy industries un- derwritten by South Africa’s isolationist white government.
The end of apartheid in 1994 and reentry to the global market were consequential for Daleside. Iscor was ill equipped to prosper in a globalized market for iron and steel. As in many peripheral communities in decline, life in Daleside is marked by familiar rhythms and intensities, especially around Friday afternoon (payday) and Sunday morning (church).
Sobekwa and Clément-Delmas hung out in Daleside’s small commercial center, observing the ebb and flow of civic life. They also explored the settlement’s amorphous peri-urban landscapes which bear the twin scars of commercial farming and opencast mining. As time passed, they were accepted as a familiar presence, and their photographs became more intimate—less about the symbolic nature of the town and more about private rituals. In these photos, we accompany them on their journey.