Photoblog: shooting for ‘Heritage Stories of Us’

Posted on 12 February 2015

I’m sitting wrapping my hair up in a headscarf, anxiously checking for errant strands. I have never done this before, and I tend to avoid doing anything more complicated with my hair than a scraggly bun. I look out to Mthembu for his approval. He nods, his straight face belied by the humour in his eyes. ‘Beautiful,’ he says.

I know he was just being nice. I really did look rather odd. But after my first attempt to photograph the Shembe Church on the Inanda Heritage route, I was eager to not step on any more toes. You see, I had tumbled out my car the previous day, takkie-clad and wearing jeans… on sacred ground. Mthembu told me gently that I should come back the next day and wear a long skirt. Mortified, I agreed, but no harm was done and I now know better.

Mthembu met me the following day and showed me around his place of worship. His quietly spoken voice carried around the empty ground; the morning service had ended and there was no one around save for the two of us and a goat. Isaiah Shembe founded the Church 1910, in the rolling hills of Inanda. Close by lived two other famous figures; Mahatma Gandhi and John L Dube, founder of the ANC. Our former President, the honoured Nelson Mandela, cast his first democratic vote here in 1994. With an area so steeped in importance, I felt vaguely ashamed that the only connection I have had prior to this was through Inanda Dam and the Dusi Canoe Marathon.

But these are the joys of assignments for Getaway. Here are some of the photos I took that didn’t make it into the magazine for the story in our December issue. First of the Shembe Church and the Inanda Heritage route, then down to Danger Point in Gansbaai, and finally Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town. I hope you enjoy them. Find all six heritage spots here, or pick up a digital version of our December 2014 issue for the full story and lots more pics.

Also read: six places with South African soul



The Printing Press at Mahatma Ghandi’s house, a mere 10km away from the Church.



Mthembu walking through the leafless trees. I loved the shadows patterned across the ground with the Shembe Church in the background.



Church Elders often visit the Church during the day, speaking to visitors who come in search of explanations and information.

The jagged rocks of Danger Point in Gansbaai could not be further removed from those painted white in Ekuphakameni, and yet I felt the same sense of awe. In 1852, the Birkenhead struck a rocky outcrop about two kilometres from where the lighthouse now stands. The ship was full, hastening on its way to the Eighth Frontier War. The English soldiers stood by on deck as the order ‘Women and children first!’ was uttered for the first time in history, sacrificing their own lives and saving all the civilians in the process.

I was standing on similar such rocks, huge waves shearing off in front of me and temporarily blotting out the sun. The sound made me shiver and I sat, gripped by the scene until I realised I was losing light and had a job to do. The drama around you makes for easy photography – just be aware of the early gate closing time at Danger Point. You will have to walk along the coast for those evening and morning shots unless you make a prior arrangement with staff at Danger Point.



Danger Point, Gansbaai.



Danger Point, Gansbaai.

And yet this scene seemed worlds away from where I found myself, leather armchair creaking and muffled voices wafting up through the old wooden floors of Clarke’s Bookshop’s second floor.  Home to rare books, out-of-date books, historical and banned books, this shop embodies the idea of a bookshop and is curated by lovers of literature. It safeguards pages that have huge cultural worth, a priceless tribute to independent thinking and well worth a visit when you are next in Cape Town.



Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town.



Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town.

Read more in the December 2014 copy of Getaway magazine, where six well-travelled journalists shared the places of significance they would recommend in South Africa.


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