Southern Africa | Travel Portraits
“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” - Paul Caponigro
Having travelled to every country in Southern Africa, the only thing left for me to do, is to return one day ;)
In Southern Africa there's a mix of everything, from sparsely populated countries like Namibia and Botswana, where wild elephants and giraffe can be spotted from the road, to small but mighty countries like Lesotho and Swaziland.
The three following reasons are why I couldn't help but fall in love with Southern Africa:
Meeting people from all different types of cultures, whether it be traditional San or Himba villagers to university students living the city life
The variety of things to do - culture tours, mountain climbing, animal safaris, coastal surfing, renowned scuba diving, city life, arts/entertainment/festivals, horseback trekking...
The ability to escape to the bush and set up camp next to the gigantic orange sphere of the setting African sun
Southern Africa includes the following countries: Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
I was lucky to spend a year in the region, but even after so much time, I can think of a million reasons to go back.
One of those reasons being, to continue photographing the warm-hearted, welcoming and lovely people of Southern Africa.
I hope you enjoy perusing the Southern Africa portraits and stories on this page, and that it helps bring awareness to the incredible people living in this beautiful part of the world.
ZIMBABWE: At a storytelling workshop in Harare, I was drawn to David's story of African folklore come to life. In many countries, paying a dowry is still a major part of the marriage tradition, but for some reason, David’s great, great, great grandfather refused to pay his, and it brought bad luck to the entire family throughout future generations. Today, David crafts homemade mbiras (instrument in the photo) and teaches music to raise money to pay back the dowry.
ZIMBABWE: When I met Sharon, Sheila and Charmine they were volunteering as hosts at the Harare International Festival of Arts (HIFA), one of Africa’s largest international arts festivals. Every time I walked through the gate I looked forward to their cheerful greeting, and after a few days we got to chatting about their career goals and decision to wait to get married and have children. They were excited about the country’s new focus on female empowerment. In their words, “change is coming”.
ZIMBABWE: Valencia is a traditional healer originally from Malawi, but has lived in Zim most of her life. She started training at 13 and now takes on cases as large as cancer treatment, and has lately become prominent for her marriage counselling services (something that’s made her a very popular person in the community!) Her practice has typically remained very secretive in order to preserve the ancient knowledge, but she’s started training youth to ensure the traditions continue.
ZIMBABWE: Garikayi is a business owner and community organizer in Harare. He runs Harare Township Tours, and was my tour guide to the largest township in the country, Mbare. Garikayi did a semester of university in the U.S., but prefers living in Zim. “America is obsessed with consumerism and people are more concerned for themselves over their community”, he explains. He's photographed in front of his community centre/creative space in Mbare, where youth are trained to be leaders of tomorrow.
BOTSWANA: These two school age girls approached me excitedly asking for a photo, which gave me a chance to chat about Botswana’s recent success in providing education. We chatted about their love of school and how they want to become lawyers and teachers. Due to early pregnancy girls were dropping out of school sooner than boys, so under Botswana’s revised national policy ensuring equal access to education, the country has experienced tremendous expansion in primary and secondary school.
BOTSWANA: When I met Mr. Bullets he was happily socializing with fellow retired friends outside of a bustling market. Thanks to a mining boom his town has grown rapidly since he was young. Botswana is considered a foreign mineral investment magnet because of its political stability, and policy for investing its diamond generated tax revenue. Mr. Bullets served for 50 years in the Botswana police force and has watched his country blossom into a tourism and mining success story.
BOTSWANA: Taking a mokoro boat tour into the Okavango Delta is a sought-after experience many travel from around the world for. I had a wonderful guide, pictured here, who made sure the experience lived up to our expectations. He manoeuvred the boat up next to a herd of elephants, provided detailed knowledge about the delta’s flora and fauna, made us homemade hats out of river lilies, and led a walking safari to see herds of zebra and wildebeest. The delta is a place like no other.
BOTSWANA: Indulging in street food is one of my favourite parts about travelling, because I can discover new dishes and chat with the chef and their local customers. Here is one vendor I particularly loved visiting for great conversation, and of course her memorable beef stew. She had just left an office job to devote herself to her passion for cooking. Maun is a busy tourist and research hub, being in such close proximity to the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert, making her stall a busy place.
SOUTH AFRICA: When I met James he was juggling his job as a receptionist at a campground, and when no one was looking, writing in a notebook. With a friendly demeanor like his, it wasn’t long before we got to chatting. I learned he’s the Minister of his local church, and was working on next week’s sermon. He was happy to share some of his Christian wisdom with me. Particularly memorable, was how lucky he felt to live in a community that prioritizes love and family over greed and money.
SOUTH AFRICA: I met Karabo and Mpume when they were on vacation, celebrating their recent engagement. They were taking a much-deserved break from their busy professional lives in Pretoria, enjoying the day at the lodge’s infinity pool overlooking a breathtaking gorge. Karabo is an accounting graduate and aspiring CA, and a model with SRTM, and her fiancé, Mpume, works in telecommunications. They are a great example of the happy, middle-class people that make up South Africa today.
SOUTH AFRICA: Anwar is a 2nd generation S. African. He was in the newborn product business, but is putting his entrepreneurial skills to use developing a peanut flavoured nut-free spread. Proudly showing me the logo mock-up, he tells me it should reach shelves within the year. Anwar openly discusses apartheid with me, saying because of segregation his childhood dream of being a pilot was out of reach. Today, however, I’m told skin colour has no merit. “Unlike for me, my son has no limits”.
SOUTH AFRICA: Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Steve is a product of the Bush War, during which he defended against lions in the night, and spent years battling a war he could never fully understand. He's an ultra-marathon runner, organizes youth volunteer trips into Lesotho, and runs one of the most successful accommodations and horse trail operations in the Drakensberg mountains. His dog Vera, whose being trained to care for his farm’s flock of sheep, followed him everywhere he went.
ZAMBIA: Dominique is a Senior Handler at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, and a true specialist in chimp conservation. He’s travelled to Kenya and Congo to participate in exchange programs and study wildlife preservation, and is now training his son to work at the orphanage after graduation. Dominique had endless tales to tell, and knew every chimp by name. He laughed while telling of one chimp almost biting his finger off, but he says, that’s the most danger he’s ever been in.
ZAMBIA: South Luangwa is one of Africa’s best-known parks for walking safaris, and is home to some of the highest concentration of game. Luangwa’s guides are renowned for their knowledge and training, making this area a busy tourist hub. Thanks to the flourishing tourism industry, Tinta is able to make her living doing what she loves – serving up great food with her friend Royce. Their new restaurant is near a park entry, and with her children grown, she was excited to go back to work.
ZAMBIA: We camped in this couple’s community church when it was getting dark and had no place to stay. They helped coordinate a welcome by the community, since few spoke English, and for the next hour, as the sun dimmed below the horizon, kids and adults all wanted to have their photo taken. Before leaving the next morning, I printed the photos and left them as a gift. This village wasn’t rich by any means, but they were rich with healthy crops and a close-knit community.
ZAMBIA: Natasha is a licensed pilot who most recently was studying flying in Canada. She chose the profession because of her love for travelling, but when asked where she wants to settle down, she says Zambia is her first choice. With more and more tourists seeking the renowned wildlife experiences of Zambia’s Luangwa national park, there will be a growing need for bush pilots to work in the tourism industry. When we met she was thrilled to be expecting her first baby.
LESOTHO: I was wild camping in the mountains when I met Juliana, who was on her way to tend to the family’s farmland with her grandmothers. Being a high school grad with English speaking skills, and in typical African fashion, not in a rush to get anywhere quick, we spent some time chatting about life in Lesotho. She was eager to discuss solar technology, which she hopes will spread throughout the countryside in the next few years.
LESOTHO: Ernest is the Activity Manager at Semonkong Lodge. When we met he was watching his friend’s shop, but was more excited to talk with me about the growth in Lesotho’s tourism visitation since the government began investing in it a few years ago. Tourists driving across the border now receive a glossy promo booklet encouraging them to explore lesser-known areas of the country, like Semonkong. With an attraction like Maletsunyane Falls, they should have no trouble attracting new visitors.
LESOTHO: His business, Maletsunyane Leather Goods and Repairs, is one of three leather artisan shops in Semonkong, a town where one feels like they’ve walked onto the set of a Hollywood western. Next to his shop, shepherds and villagers tie their ponies to a coral and get to work negotiating bids for their goods. As a child, he loved fixing his family’s shoes, so he left to study leatherwork in another region of Lesotho. He’s happy to be back in Semonkong, running his own shop.
SWAZILAND: Nobuhle has worked at Legends Backpackers in Swazi for 15 years. Today she's the Manager, and says tourism has increased over the last few years because of government investment. She has two pre-teen daughters who recently moved out of the city to live with her mother. She misses them, but is happy they can help her mother farm and attend a good school. Nobuhle says she loves working in tourism, because it allows her to meet people from around the world.
SWAZILAND: Godrey is an Administrative Clerk for the South African Police Service (SAPS) and has spent the last four years living and working at the Bulembu border between Swazi and South Africa. He says he’s happily living the single life, and likes to keep busy with visiting friends and family on weekends. He attended technical college before training for SAP, but says he’d actually love to be a chef one day.
SWAZILAND: Trevor is part of the last generation of Swazi's to remember growing up in a traditional village. Today he is university educated with a degree in international tourism, and works at Mantanga Village as a guide. When asked what his biggest struggle has been, he says the passing of his father, and struggling to fund his own high school and university. Trevor is proud of how far he’s come, and that his job allows him to share traditional Swazi culture with locals and visitors.
NAMIBIA: The Caprivi Strip panhandle is where she grew up, but she’d just returned from living in the capital city of Windhoak, where she acquired a degree in HR. She was taking the afternoon off from applying for jobs, to catch up with friends at a local restaurant. The region is known for its wilderness and waterways, and I asked if she and her friends went swimming as a pastime. She just laughed and said no, of course not, there are too many crocodiles!
NAMIBIA: For an authentic African experience, visit the Living Museum of the Ju/’Hoansi-San. The San, also called Bushmen, are the original inhabitants of the region, having lived in Southern Africa for 20,000. As a guest of the village, you’ll be introduced to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle by learning traditional practices like shooting an arrow, foraging, and starting a fire without matches. Watching ancient medicine songs performed by the San, is an experience forever etched into my memory
NAMIBIA: The Himbas are an indigenous people from Northern Namibia. Himba women are notable for covering themselves with otjize paste, a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment used for protection from the hot and dry climate, and to cleanse the skin. Hairstyle and jewelry also play a significant role. To signify she’s been married for over a year, or has had a child, this woman wears an ornate headpiece called the Erembe, and has braided hair, coloured and put into shape with otjize.
MOZAMBIQUE: Ze Maria’s gentle nature, intelligent wit and musical talent make him one of my most memorable friends in Africa. His go-getter attitude has made him a self-taught multi-instrumental musician who travels the world to perform, most notably with orchestras in the U.S. and Europe. He’s renowned for crafting the local woodwind instrument made out of the masala (Strychnos) fruit, pictured to the left. I feel privileged to own one of his creations, and to have him as a friend.
MOZAMBIQUE: I look up to inspiring mother-daughter duos like Mize and Filipa. Mize, who studied in Buenos Aires when she was young, worked hard to send her two daughters to good schools. Thanks to her, Filipa is now studying law. After school Filipa has dreams of visiting Egypt and Rome, but wants to settle back in Mozambique eventually. Mize spends her days enjoying her new restaurant, Gare Bar, where she sells homemade jewelry and serves her Portuguese-inspired culinary creations.
MOZAMBIQUE: Filipe lives in one of Africa’s top scuba destinations, Tofo, and grew up wanting to work in marine conservation. Through a program sponsored by Ocean Revolution Mozambique, he was able to acquire his Padi diving instructors license and has been working as a guide and teacher for 4 years. He plans to continue teaching diving, maybe in Indonesia, and go to university for marine biology. He loves travelling to Europe and taking advantage of Tofo's thriving live music scene.
MALAWI: He’s the head permaculture gardener at Mushroom Farm, a vegetarian off-grid eco-lodge located in the hills of the Great Rift Valley in northern Malawi. Mushroom is a social enterprise, meaning 10% of revenue is donated to ongoing community projects. They generate clean energy, run a community centre, and an adult literacy and business program. Most of the food served at the lodge comes from the permaculture garden, which guests can tour, among other activities like hiking and swimming.
MALAWI: Joel was volunteering in the village Livingstonia when we met. He’s a physiotherapist, and a member of the new Physiotherapy Association of Malawi. Practitioners like Joel are part of a new stream of professionals who aren’t fleeing to developed countries to work. He’s dedicated to helping progress health care in his own country.
MALAWI: Enala, Gilines and Maria lead a non-profit based in the tourist town of Monkey Bay, along the shores of Lake Malawi. They create crafts, accessories and jewellery made from recycled materials found in the community. Walking by their store, I remember seeing smiling faces and hearing waves of laughter as they crafted. Since Monkey Bay is bustling with tourists, they have a consistent stream of buyers interested in taking home a little piece of Lake Malawi.