We Didn't Choose to be Born Here

  • Dates
    2019 - 2022
  • Author
  • Topics Archive, Documentary, Fine Art, Photobooks, Portrait, War & Conflicts
  • Locations Gaborone, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Robben Island

This body of work is an exploration of Botswana and South Africa’s socio-political fabric through a personal lens. Blending staged portraiture, documentary images and re-enactments, I weave personal family stories with national history.

These images are part of a photobook that addresses the history of musicality and activism in my family lineage.

In 1958, my grandfather, Hippolytus Mothopeng, fled South Africa to escape racist Apartheid law. He went to Botswana, a far more peaceful country under British protection that eventually achieved independence in 1966. He worked as a town clerk in Francistown and Gaborone and as a hobbyist jazz musician.

In contrast, my grandfather’s uncle, Zephaniah Mothopeng, a teacher by profession, became an activist and joined the Pan-African Congress of Azania (PAC), eventually becoming the president of this political party. As a prominent leader of the struggle against Apartheid, my great-uncle Zephania Mothopeng served two separate jail sentences on Robben Island, the latter in 1979 for threatening to overthrow the government, for which he was sentenced to 15 years.

In my photobook, I also write about my own experiences with activism during the #FeesMustFall protests that took place at the University of Cape Town in 2016, fighting for free, decolonized education across all South African universities.

The title of this project, “We Didn’t Choose to be Born Here”, is a phrase explored in the minds of different family members during crises, separation, and ennui. For example, my grandfather didn’t choose to be born into colonial South Africa, which introduced racist Apartheid laws when he was a young man, so he fled to Botswana. However, when South Africa finally achieved its independence in 1994, he decided not to return to South Africa and claim South African national identity for himself and his family, as he had been living in Botswana for so long and was comfortable there. My mother often wished that he had done this because of the loneliness she experienced during her upbringing in Botswana.

Using various photographic languages, I have attempted to construct a non-linear narrative that shows my maternal family’s lasting kindredship despite all the effects of politics, resistance, history, migration, loss and separation they have endured for over half a century. Despite all these adversities, I also want the viewer or audience to take away a sense of hope, celebration, and triumphant accomplishment.

© Thero Makepe - Re A Hlopela (Tombstone Unveiling), 2019

Re A Hlopela (Tombstone Unveiling), 2019

© Thero Makepe - Robben Island University, 2020

Robben Island University, 2020

© Thero Makepe - Monna Wa Mmino III, 2020

Monna Wa Mmino III, 2020

© Thero Makepe - Mama Mo Metsi, 2019

Mama Mo Metsi, 2019

© Thero Makepe - Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae? V, 2019

Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae? V, 2019

© Thero Makepe - Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae? IV, 2019

Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae? IV, 2019

© Thero Makepe - The Night of Ruins (a reenactment), 2019

The Night of Ruins (a reenactment), 2019

© Thero Makepe - Under Surveillance, 2021

Under Surveillance, 2021

© Thero Makepe - Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae?, 2019

Kgomo Tsaka Deile Kae?, 2019

© Thero Makepe - The Morning of Ruins, 2020

The Morning of Ruins, 2020

© Thero Makepe - Under Surveillance II, 2021

Under Surveillance II, 2021

© Thero Makepe - Martha II, 2021

Martha II, 2021

© Thero Makepe - Daughter, Mother & Grandmother (1935- Present) II, 2020

Daughter, Mother & Grandmother (1935- Present) II, 2020

© Thero Makepe - Kalamore, 2022

Kalamore, 2022

© Thero Makepe - Wait, 2021

Wait, 2021

© Thero Makepe - Come What May, 2022

Come What May, 2022

© Thero Makepe - Father and Daughter, 2023

Father and Daughter, 2023

© Thero Makepe - Ngwao Ya Rona, 2021

Ngwao Ya Rona, 2021

© Thero Makepe - Sharpeville, 2020

Sharpeville, 2020

© Thero Makepe - Kereke II, 2022

Kereke II, 2022

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