On April 27, 2014, South Africa celebrated the 20th anniversary of the end of Apartheid. While the country, and the world, recognized the progress made in two decades of freedom, it is necessary to also recognize the extreme conditions millions of South Africans continue to face. In 1994, the African National Congress was voted into power in the first democratic election, promising better living conditions and housing for all, however, to this day there are more than 2.2 million people still in need of housing. This number continues to rise.
The housing crisis in South Africa is a complex issue with roots in race relations, segregation, government and history. There is the visually obvious aspect of the crisis as seen in the large townships of shack dwellers, and there is the hidden pain of those who were forcibly removed from their homes during the throws of Apartheid and pray to find a way back to their roots before they die.
What is Home? is a multimedia website including photo, video, text and infographic elements that explores the housing crisis in the townships of South Africa. In five chapters displayed in a vertical scrolling, parallax and responsive web design, it tells the stories of people currently fighting for their freedom in 2014 as South Africa celebrates the 20th anniversary of democracy.
This feature began as a student venture as part of my graduate program and fulfilled the thesis requirement for my master’s degree. While in graduate school at The University of Miami, I participated in a multimedia project in Grahamstown, South Africa in connection with The University of Miami and Rhodes University. Upon completion of the project, I felt a strong pull to stay in South Africa and to complete a more extensive and larger report on some of the issues that I witnessed. As my colleagues boarded a plane to return to the United States, I flew from Grahamstown to Cape Town on my own. Before this trip, I had never been to South Africa but had spent several months researching the country and the history of the rise and fall of Apartheid. I had no budget for the project, no contacts, and limited time. I spent the next four weeks researching the housing crisis, talking to local journalists, organizations and anyone else that would listen, and through much perseverance I was able to find stories that reflected a very complex and confusing topic of housing in informal settlements.
The project required navigation of dangerous areas that are known for incredibly high rates of rape and murder. It required me to spend extended time in areas which many local journalists and contacts refused to take me. There were numerous times I had to be escorted from secluded areas because of escalated risk. The project also required access to closed communities, and the ability to communicate in several languages. With the help of a local friend I hired for a week to translate, I shot footage for five short documentary videos, collected photographs, statistics and person accounts of the complex and deeply rooted housing crisis.
Upon returning to the States, I assembled the project by designing and building a website, editing the videos into short stories, building infographics and writing out the stories to connect five chapters ranging from a single mother who has been on a housing wait list for over 15 years, to an 85 year old man who was forcibly removed from his house when he was 19 years old now waiting to move back, to a group of women who have created alternate housing for orphaned children.
The initial goal of the project was to shed light onto the housing crisis in reflection to the 20th anniversary of the end of Apartheid using video storytelling, however, it became apparent from the first few days in the field that video alone would limit the range of storytelling. By blending photo, text and video with infographics, and designing a layout for the website which allowed the overall story to flow in and out of each element, the internet provided a house for the project that would not be possible in print or television.