We Didn't Choose to be Born Here (2020 - 2022)

This body of work is an exploration of Botswana and South Africa’s socio-political fabric through a personal lens. Blending staged portraiture, documentary images and re-enactments, I weave personal family stories with national history.

These images are part of a photobook that addresses the history of musicality and activism in my family lineage.

In 1958, my grandfather, Hippolytus Mothopeng, fled South Africa to escape racist Apartheid law. He went to Botswana, a far more peaceful country under British protection that eventually achieved independence in 1966. He worked as a town clerk in Francistown and Gaborone and as a hobbyist jazz musician.

In contrast, my grandfather’s uncle, Zephaniah Mothopeng, a teacher by profession, became an activist and joined the Pan-African Congress of Azania (PAC), eventually becoming the president of this political party. As a prominent leader of the struggle against Apartheid, my great-uncle Zephania Mothopeng served two separate jail sentences on Robben Island, the latter in 1979 for threatening to overthrow the government, for which he was sentenced to 15 years.

The title of the project, “We Didn’t Choose to be Born Here”, is a phrase explored in the minds of different family members during crises, separation, and ennui. In my photobook, I also write about my own experiences with activism during the #FeesMustFall protests that took place at the University of Cape Town in 2016, fighting for free, decolonized education across all South African universities.

Using various photographic languages, I have attempted to construct a non-linear narrative that shows my maternal family’s lasting kindredship despite all the effects of politics, resistance, history, migration, loss and separation they have endured for over half a century. Despite all these adversities, I also want the viewer or audience to take away a sense of hope, celebration, and triumphant accomplishment.

Foam Talent 2024-2025 Online Exhibition

© Thero Makepe 2024