Sophie Feyder

Winner Dissertation Prize 2017

Portraits of resilience: writing a socio-cultural history of a black South African location with the Ngilima photographic collection. Benoni, 1950s-1960s.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. R.J. Ross, Prof. dr. P.E. Spyer
Nomination: Leiden University, Faculty of Humanities

Report by the Selection Committee 

This thesis offers a fresh look at 1950s-1960s South African urban history based on a private collection of photographs taken by a father and a son. It tells its analytic story of an anti-monumental memory of everyday life among black and coloured South Africans in Benoni from a social anthropology perspective, and offers a fine supplement and necessary alternative approach to the “struggle stories” and narratives about anti-Apartheid heroes. Equally, the thesis offers genuine insights into urban life during apartheid South Africa. It scores high in originality and international significance. The author used so-called ‘photo-elucidation’, which entails using photographs to encourage informants to reminisce on their past. The jury was impressed by the successful marriage of the personal and the analytical in this beautifully crafted book. The author shows how, despite apartheid, Black communities continued to live and flourish, and were resilient in the face of racist oppression.