On a solo adventure through Cape Town’s Khayelitsha neighborhood, photographer Dan Carter shakes off his year in isolation by capturing sublime landscapes and portraits.
After years of non-stop travel, lockdown turned my lifestyle upside down. For the first time I found myself settling in one place: the four walls of my house finally became my home.
South Africa, where I live, was not spared the devastating number of deaths or the increasing wealth disparity that came from the Covid-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected poorer, marginalized communities. We are still grieving all that we have lost, yet I am convinced that some good can still come of tragedy. Like many others, my time in isolation has led to deep introspection and a greater understanding of who I am and how I want to live.
There is an African philosophy known as Ubuntu, which defines what it means to live together, to need one another in a simple but profound concept: “I am because you are.”
A South African philosophy professor, Michael Onyebuchi Eze, summarizes it best: “A person is a person through other people … Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation.”
In pursuit of this otherness connection, I am more determined than ever to explore all the greatness South Africa has to offer through its people and landscapes, and continue to discover more about its devastating history. I believe we must unlearn the human instinct to categorize an entire place or people-group based on what we have heard over our own experience.
And so, I recently spent a day on a solo adventure that took me to a place dubbed South Africa’s most dangerous township by those who have most likely never been. Khayelitsha is an informal settlement 30 kilometers from Cape Town’s city center. A community steeped in Xhosa culture, abundant in creativity, seeping with young entrepreneurs, and finally, home to my quiet place.
Khayelitsha is also home to one of my favourite coffee spots, Siki’s Koffee Kafe, which subsequently has become a treasured hangout. Siki’s is a social hub to meet and connect with talented writers, musicians, activists and photographers. It’s a space where people from around the world can gather and engage in meaningful, diverse conversation and will soon be home to owner Siki Dibela’s latest venture, a roastery, through which he intends to invest back into his community with training and employment. Far more than just the owner of a cafe space, Dibela is leading a legacy of change, embodying the spirit of Ubuntu as he empowers those around him.
Sam’s Barber Shop
After countless excursions to Siki’s, I stumbled across Sam’s Barber Shop. They say once you find your barber, you are loyal for life. While a trip to Khayelitsha is incomplete without a fresh trim, a visit to Sam’s is incomplete without making new friends. Barber shops are illustrious social-spaces and Sam’s is no different. It’s no wonder then, that after an hour or two you can often forget why you went in the first place.
Khayelitsha is home to some of Cape Town’s best known spots for local cuisine, namely Rands and 4roomed—but when grab-and-go is the flavor of the day there are countless food stall options from amagwinya to kotas and everything in between. Amagwinya are a traditional South African pastry with a donut-like consistency. Also referred to as vethoeks, these deep fried delights are a popular comfort food across the country and fortunately for me, widely available around Khayelitsha. My favourite spot for amagwinya is conveniently located on Ntlazane Road, a short walk from the Caltex. Caffeinated with a fresh cut and a full belly I made my way towards the coast.
Rich, vibrant sunset tones flooded the sky a fiery pink as I arrived at Monwabisi Beach. Monwabisi roughly translates to “bringing joy” in Xhosa and it does exactly that. Though the area heavily lacks funding and has been somewhat abandoned, there is no denying its beauty remains steadfast and I long for the day when it receives the recognition and support it deserves.
Arriving at Monwabisi, I pull out my towel, my book, and some of Siki’s coffee from Away’s Packable Backpack, which can be stashed away easily and expands into the perfect day bag; today I even managed to squeeze in my camera and portable tripod.
Far from the chaos of the city, the slumbering waves swallowed up all concept of time. The wind stilled and the sea shimmered; the tidal pool glistened like a perfectly polished mirror. Aside from the dedicated fisherman that line the shore and the countless birds in the air, I am alone in tranquility, a chance to steal a second with my thoughts. Why must it be a shock that there is beauty here? There is no denying every neighborhood has its problems—some more than others—but until we begin to recognize the desperate need for another story, areas like Khayelitsha will forever be painted with the same brush.
Lapping waves separate the sea from the sky. Footprints in the sand follow me home as a silent reminder that we are never really alone. At our core, we are connected. If I am to win, we all must win. In our pursuit of self we must remember that even though we have been confined to our homes, we were not created for isolation. As we learn what it means to truly embody the spirit of Ubuntu, my greatest hope is that we actively care for each other, using our talents to the benefit of the entire community. As we learn more about ourselves, let’s ask ourselves the question: “How is a better me, creating a better us?”
Dan Carter’s Packing List
As a photographer, no adventure is complete without my camera.
This fits snug into my packable rucksack and it’s become a necessity for travel, particularly as the light fades and you need a slightly slower shutter.
Despite the freezing temperatures of the Atlantic, I’m always prepared for an ocean swim.
Winter is back and those beautiful sunsets can be deceivingly cold. This sweater was thrifted a few years ago and is still a firm favourite.
6. The Freedom Artist by Ben Okri
I’m currently reading The Freedom Artist by one of my favourite poets, Ben Okri, and I can’t leave home without it.