Orange Vendors

One of the things that I miss shooting  are photo-stories. The opportunity to completely immerse myself in someone’s life for a period of time, so that my shooting begins to align with my subject’s own perspective of life. The two views merge, as you become fellow travelers looking through the same field of focus. Of course, with any type of medium of representation, you can never truly leave all your biases at the door. But just having awareness of this is enough.

Its surreal seeing something from the outside, appearing so ordinary and commonplace, then diving head first into its deep pool of actuality. The ins and outs of day to day happenings that transpire all the time - not just in the two weeks that you are watching. On this particular story, I spent two weeks with Orange Vendors from Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. This is the story of Xoli Majenge and the orange stand that he shares with Vuyani Chaza.

The first encounter with people I’d like to do a story on, is always slightly tense. Its perfectly understandable how our eyes meet and send subliminal darts of mutual distrust. If the wind blew a stranger into town with an obnoxious camera, inquisitive eyes and ramshackle Xhosa, I would also have trust issues.  By and by, time morphed the tension into a  piqued tolerance of my presence until I become Invisible. Until I lost my form and became a phantom observer. Conversely, they lost their form as well. If you look at the photographs, you’ll see that I gravitated strongly towards their hands. When it comes to people, their hands more than anything else, hold the narrative to their lives. Every aspect of what we do and who we are, lies with our hands.

Xoli has been selling oranges for the latter 21 years of his life, while Vuyani only just recently joined him at the stand a year ago. He is 49 years old and has carried out his life with despondent remiss. Vuyani is 30 years his junior and has dreams of leaving Fort Beaufort to become a journalist in Johannesburg.  The two of them get along like a gangly alley cat and ice old water. Xoli has been working the stand longer than Vuyani has been alive and yet they earn exactly the same amount of money. The neglect of his seniority burns the coals of his animosity toward his younger, but equal partner. The furnace of Xoli’s dejected heart brings a soft sadness to his otherwise hard face.

They both work from 7am until 5pm for an orange farmer who supplies the oranges and gets 80% of the daily profits.  The two men tending the stand then have to split the remaining 20% down the middle. All day, they sit in the sun, run up and down trying to catch the attention of fleeting cars, for R30 a day. Life as an orange vendor is tedious. They spend 10 hours, seven days a week, packing and selling oranges. They eat orange after orange, almost as though, only to keep their hands and hearts busy from surrender to their inequitable lives.

The orange season is short. And with its end, comes the end of the men’s employment.  Vuyani busies himself with school work and friends during the day, while at night, he prays for deliverance from the only town he has ever known. Lacking the will to find some other way of employment, Xoli depends on his reluctant girlfriend to support him during the rainy months of his inertia. He sits, waits and nothing happens. After all,  “It’s waiting for nothing that kills a mans soul”.

Photo stories are always difficult  more towards the end. You bombard someone’s life, document it and then leave. Never really knowing what comes of them. As a journalist we borrow peoples lives, and are forever osmotically changed.

Everytime I eat an orange, I think about my time in Fort Beaufort.

 

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it is waiting for nothing that kills a mans soul” - Gregory David Roberts

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5 comments

Salted Peanut
Wow, the words together with the story portray such depth. The amalgamation makes for vivid story telling.
Mwado Panti
Not only are you a BADASS photographer, you are also a BADASS writer! You give a page its vital pulse!
Khanya
i love your pictures! you are amazing
mapodile
mapodile
Thank you all so much! I really appreciate the encouragement

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