It is a book full of rage and bitterness published by Ernest Cole in 1967 under the title House of Bondage (“house of servitude”). Recognized as the first book of anti-apartheid photos, it describes from the inside, with relentless images and sharp words, the ravages of this system of “separate development” established in South Africa from 1948.
For having experienced them in his flesh, the black photographer can tell all the humiliation and helplessness of those who suffered this system of institutionalized racism, erected for the benefit of a white minority until its end, in 1991. “It is an extraordinary experience to live as if life were a punishment inflicted because you are black, he writes in the book. Not a day goes by without a reminder of your guilt, a reproach of your condition, and the risk of trouble for breaking laws only designed for your repression. »
Bruised from childhood
The book has just been republished by Aperture editions, with additional texts that enrich those of the photographer. All his life, he fought against this system of oppression which bruised him from childhood: expelled with his family from the house which they owned by the government, he was also deprived of studies because of the Bantu Education Act, which imposed on blacks a cut-rate education, just good enough to prepare them for trades considered inferior to which whites destined them.
Rebellious Cole, spied on and harassed by the authorities, smuggled his pictures out of the country to publish his book overseas and fled the country in 1966, aged 26, under the guise of a pilgrimage to Heavy. A boldness that he paid dearly for: exiled to the United States, he ended his life in destitution. He died of cancer at the age of 49 in 1990. Part of his archives is the subject of a dispute between his descendants and the Hasselblad Foundation in Sweden, which inherited it.
The book offers a harsh dive into a regime whose violence infiltrates every detail of daily life. The photographer has been everywhere: in schools bantu (for blacks), crowded and under-equipped, where children are only entitled to a basic education. In the gold mines, pride of the country which extracts 70% of the metal on a global scale and where the miners, all black, survive in miserable conditions, treated like cattle by the white foremen. In the trains where tens of thousands of people pile up every morning and every evening for a grueling round trip: blacks have to live in areas away from urban centers, reserved for whites, even though they are there. working. In the street, where the police constantly check the pass, tool of surveillance and repression that has become a symbol of apartheid. This small notebook, obligatory for a Black, indicates its origin, its place of residence (imposed) and its employment. He dictates the places (home and work) where he is authorized to go. In case of violation, it is the arrest, the fine, the whipping, the prison.
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