Masixole Feni's photographs show how dignity and sanitation are inextricably linked

Activist photographer Masixole Feni has won the Ernst Cole award for his images, which show that inadequate sanitation robs people of their dignity.

Masixole Feni, an activist photographer, has won the Ernst Cole award for A Drain on Our Dignity, his photo series, which shows the effects of poor service delivery in the lives of marginalised South Africans in Cape Town townships.

Feni’s work transcends showing just the material effects of poor service delivery and focuses sharply on the human effect. Feni isn’t a voyeur into township life: as a resident of Mfuleni Township, poor sanitation, access to clean water and frequent flooding personally affect him.

Feni is a member of Iliso Labantu, a collective of township-based photographers who capture the experience of residents in contemporary South Africa.  Other photographers in the collective include Sipho Mpongo of Twenty Journey.

The panellists were affected by Feni’s work because they felt that it echoed the photographs taken by Ernest Cole in House of Bondage published in the early 1960s The book was banned by the government because the photographs told the appalling living conditions of black South Africans under Apartheid.

The Ernst Cole award grants Feni the opportunity to grow his body of work by travelling across South Africa to capture the effects of poor sanitation and slow service delivery. The award also grants Feni the financial support to hold an exhibition and publish a book.

Water is Life, Feni’s first exhibition, was celebrated for the photographer’s perspective on South Africa 20 years after democracy.

Images courtesy of Masixole Feni and GroundUp