Taking its sub-title “Manenberg Avenue is where it’s happening” from Abdullah Ebrahim’s jazz composition Manenberg, David Lurie has created a lyrical record of a discordant suburb on Cape Town’s outer limits. Located in the long shadow of the city’s picture postcard icon Table Mountain, Manenburg is a crime-ridden world away from the genteel lives of the wealthy who reside on the mountain’s slopes – the focus of a follow up work by Lurie to be published in 2006.
The second part in an undeclared trilogy (Life in the Libertated Zone, 1994, being the first), Lurie spent 18 months on and off between 2001-2003 “hanging out, photographing in and around Manenberg Avenue” to create Cape Town Fringe. The result of his endeavours in published form is a remarkably intimate account of the often violent, alcoholic, and invariably poor lives of its black residents. (During the time he worked on the book 12 people he’d photographed died violently or were critically injured.)
We are introduced to a world where rival gangs’ tags adorn the walls: Thug Life on one; West Side on another, in front of which young boys play with tin cans. In other images children are prominent, often playing, noticeably smiling as yet unaffected by their surroundings, unlike the adults, whose smiles, in contrast, seem rarely induced other than by drink or drugs. The adults’ tension is almost tangible; aggression in the form of physical violence, intimidation and posturing is commonplace – never more so than in the tattooed bodies of gang members, their allegiance literally imprinted on their skin. Shot in black/white and superbly printed, Cape Town Fringe beautifully documents a harsh existence on South Africa’s margins with great integrity.