- Professor Pippa Skotnes for inspiring the whole project and for getting me started.
- Paul Weinberg for technical and artistic skill in bringing the pictures to life.
- Niek de Greef for creating this wonderful website.
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Emeritus Professor Martin West's evocative collection of photographs, taken of the Africa Independent Churches in Soweto between 1969 and 1971, show a segment of society hidden to most South Africans.
Starting at the end of the nineteenth century, African independent churches flourished in South Africa in the rural areas and in the cities. West’s research remains one of the few intensive studies of these churches. It culminated in his book, Martin West: Bishops and Prophets in a Black City, published in the 1970s.
The young social scientist took hundreds of images, capturing baptisms, sacrificial slaughters, prayer meetings, healing services, and vignettes of everyday life in Soweto.
Working around the apartheid laws, which limited white people's access to townships, West relied on cleric and anti-apartheid activist Beyers Naudé for a contact in the Non-European Affairs department who arranged for a pass allowing him to legally enter the rambling township.
Shuttered from a broader view by apartheid, the pictures reveal the "real people behind the data" West had collected, says Emeritus Professor Francis Wilson, who was a lecturer and mentor to West. At the time of his research, the largest concentration of these churches was based in Soweto, and, as West observed, they reached out to the poor and marginalised.
Keeping to the back roads and adopting a low profile, West gradually established a relationship with these followers. He recalls, "They were very sensitive to being looked down on. When I came to talk to them openly and honestly, they responded. So it was in that way, through talking and sharing, that I gained their trust."
About the website
This website is published, using Omeka, by the Centre for Curating the Archive, made possible by the University of Cape Town's Vice-Chancellor Strategic Project ARC: the Visual University and its Columbarium.
The site has been developed with assistance and hosting by the University of Cape Town's Computer Science department.
This collection has been digitised by the Centre for Curating the Archive and is stored at the University of Cape Town's libraries. For research and publication queries please contact the libraries: Janine.Dunlop@uct.ac.za.
Professor Martin West would like to thank: