Rainbow Transit

By Per-Anders Pettersson – In the spring of 1994 I arrived in South Africa to cover the country’s first democratic elections. Nelson Mandela was to become its first black president; he had been free for four years and had toured the world like a rock star. The election itself was one of the most significant events in recent history: from the ashes of a repressive, segregated and racist state a multi-racial nation miraculously emerged, one of the greatest success stories of the African continent. And so began my love affair with South Africa. I decided to stay and to record how this democratic vision would begin to manifest itself in the lives of ordinary citizens. For the best part of two decades I explored this project, digging beneath the myth of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ for the complex realities of daily life. For South Africa, Democracy was a hard won freedom that brought both rewards and new struggles: a soaring violent crime rate, disease, poverty and massive unemployment. Yet, despite the many challenges, the majority of South African citizens have enjoyed its fruits. South Africa’s policies of black economic empowerment reaped astonishing wealth for a new black elite, and saw the rapid emergence of a black middle class. The energy with which these so-called ‘black diamonds’ embraced capitalism constituted one of the most striking features of the transition. The example of their success also fostered a frenzied aspirational spirit amongst the poorer urban classes. However, during the second decade greed and disillusion began to smother this hope and aspiration. This is now the predominant theme in South African life. In these photographs I sought to portray the heady sense that I felt of a latter day gold rush; the energy and the optimism. Yet the reality is that few achieve the fortune or fame that they seek. Inevitably, the great majority fail or remain forever on the margins.