Photos by Mark Lewis of informal butchers in Johannesburg

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S’kop (Fourthwall Books) by Tanya Zack and Mark Lewis. S’kop is short for isiKop – ”the head” – in a hybrid Zulu/Afrikaans slang.

 
South Africa has undergone dramatic change since apartheid was abolished 1990 and free elections were held 1994. The South African society is still changing, on many different levels, and one place in particular has changed rapidly the last decades: Johannesburg.

The big insurance and banking companies began to invest heavily in the suburbs, particularly the northern suburbs, in the 80s. This triggered a flight of white and affluent people from the inner city and more and more companies moved their headquarters as well. The inner city became less attractive, parts of it was totally neglected, but Johannesburg is a typical “arrival city”, it’s not only attracting South Africans in search for opportunity, it attracts Africans seeking opportunity from the entire region. From Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia among other countries.

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In only ten years, between 2001 and 2011, the province of Guateng, of which Johannesburg is capital, grew by 30%. During the apartheid years the inner city of Johannesburg was virtually all white.  Today, according to some estimates, less than 50% of the population is South African and of them only a very small minority is white.

The photographer Mark Lewis has worked a lot in Johannesburg during the last decades, and we are very grateful that we may publish a few of his amazing images of informal butchers in Johannesburg, most of them Zimbabwean immigrants. We also asked Mark a couple of questions.

Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a photographer, how did you develop your style and interest in telling stories?

– I kind of slipped into photography. I got a job painting the interior of a photographer’s studio and ended up staying on as his assistant. I then did advertising photography and moved to London in the 80s and started doing fashion photography for magazines like Blitz and The Face. I viewed my work with those magazines, in particular Blitz Magazine, as more social documentary than fashion as it really reflected the times and in that way the fashion of the day, post punk and the beginning of Thatcherite England.

– I returned to South Africa in 1994 and started doing work with an Africa Correspondent for various German publications so that work took me into the continent and that opened my eyes to a new beginning in photography and one that I felt more comfortable with. It was when I returned to live in Joburg after a very long absence that I met up with Tanya Zack and we both discovered our mutual desire to seek and tell stories of this ever changing city, and so began the Wake Up This Is Joburg series. Tanya’s knowledge of the city through her work as an Urban Planner enabled me to look at the city in a new way.  It has also increased my interest in urbanisation and the changes that are taking place in the peri-urban landscape in Joburg, South Africa and in the rest of the continent.

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S’kop is the first book in the Wake Up-series. Could you please tell us a little bit about the series and why you began to focus on the Kazerne, that ceased to function as a parking garage in the late 1980s and then became a taxi rank?

– Wake Up This Is Joburg is a series of 10 booklets, it tells the stories of 10 ordinary, interesting, odd or outrageous denizens of the city of Johannesburg. It was first conceived as one book by Tanya and myself, S’kop, but Fourthwall Books suggested we do it as 10 stories which we both liked. Tanyas and my initial thoughts were about looking at movement in and through the inner city; how urban space gets continually altered and abandoned and hijacked and also how people navigate through these altered, abandoned and hijacked spaces. So seeing cow heads pushed through the city centre in Woolworths shopping trolleys fitted exactly into what I was hoping to find. The heads are collected every day from the inner city butcheries and pushed to various abandoned or left over spaces around the city where they are chopped and cooked.

– On entering the abandoned space which had been a parking garage and then a taxi rank and was now occupied by informal butchers wielding axes and knives and smoke billowing from fires cooking huge pots of porridge and meat, and skulls and skins piled upon blackened concrete floors, it was quite an extraordinary site, the light was wonderful and we were soon welcomed into their space and allowed to witness this process. But then the extraordinary becomes the ordinary and then you can see it for what it is, which is a startling story of entrepreneurship and survival in the city.

All photos © Mark Lewis

The Kazerne, also known as Second Kazerne Parking Garage, 66 Harrison Street, was built 1963 and demolished 2013.

Ola Wihlke

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