VISUAL ESSAY

Bearing witness to Cape Town’s darkest moments

By Shaun Swingler 23 April 2018

Leon Knipe at the scene of a gang shooting in Hanover Park on 12 October 2017: All Photos: Shaun Swingler

In Cape Town, one of the most divided cities in the world, rival gangs are waging war on the city’s streets. While many of us are asleep, freelance photographer Leon Knipe, 56, is one of those documenting the nightly toll this city takes on its citizens.

Shaun Swingler spent time with Leon Knipe to document his working life. See the video here:

Heavily armed and fiercely fought battles over lucrative drug-selling turf across the Cape Flats lead to hundreds of deaths each year. Some of them the foot soldiers doing their boss’s bidding, others are community members — men, women and children — caught in the cross-fire of battles that have nothing to do with them. All of them victims of the apartheid planning that has upheld stark socio-economic rifts that have thrived long after apartheid laws were abolished.

A 17-year-old boy is shot and killed in Hanover Park in a gang-related shooting on 12 October 2017

But, in a city as divided as Cape Town, there are sections of the population who would never know of the hardships faced by communities across the Cape Flats if were not for journalists and photographers who have made it their purpose to show these realities.

Police oversee the scene of a gang shooting which lead to the death of a 17-year-old boy in Hanover Park on 12 October 2017

While many of us are asleep, freelance photographer Leon Knipe, 56, is one of those documenting the nightly toll this city takes on its citizens, in the hope that he will be able to sell enough photos to do it again the next night. All to keep us informed.

SAPS and emergency personnel look on to a casualty of a shooting in Kewtown on 12 October 2017

Knipe has now been doing this work for over three decades, and speaks candidly in the film about the challenges he faces in bringing stories to people, and the toll this dangerous, lonely, and poorly paid work can have on one’s psyche.

Relatives of a man who was shot in Kewtown look on while emergency services tend to injuries out of frame on 12 October 2017

We’ll probably never know what real impact this work has on broader society, but hopefully the sincerity and dedication shown by people like Knipe will ensure stories of the city are shared. DM

Gallery

In other news...

July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It's a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn't going to cut it though.

In the words of Madiba: "A critical, independent and investigative free press is the lifeblood of any democracy."

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