My very first experience in the Cape Flats was my cousin and I driving through a maze to the flat where he lives with his family — a home in which there are three licenced firearms. With the sun setting over Table Mountain, all I could see was the beauty of Hanover Park and its people. When we reached Die Eiland — as the area run by the Americans gang is known — the streets were deserted.
Approaching the final bend my heart stopped. A group of guys appeared from the shadows and, suddenly, there were 16 guns pointed at us as they surround the car. Without hesitation my cousin rolled down the window, but time stood still for me. The face of a bulldog appeared with his finger across his lips. “Listen carefully. Go home and don’t come out. We shot 150 shots, my bru. It’s going to rain bullets the whole night,” said the captain, the top ranking member of the Americans in Die Eiland. He and my cousin have been friends since childhood.
As we finally near my cousin’s home, we are under the constant surveillance of cameras, which are strategically placed so that the family can monitor the area even before they leave or make their way home.
This is the hard-hitting reality of life in the Cape Flats.
On another day, as I look through my viewfinder, I make Dua (prayer) for my cousin and the people who must live through this violence. This life is what my photograph speaks of. It captures a young man finally succumbing to the pressure his environment permanently places on him.
When I saw the look in his eyes and the change in body language as he stood up, it was clear to me that something was about to happen and I just had to follow him. Treading only a few steps behind him I enter his room followed by his mother, who was pleading with him not to take up the life of a gangster.
I convince myself that I am invisible as I get into position. Tracking his movement, I instinctively take the photograph as he emerges into the light from the darkness of who he used to be.
The image is of a young man, only 16 years old, preparing for battle — a battle he has prepared for his entire life and for which he will risk his life.
To make this image, I had to immerse myself in his life. I had to be present in this moment when he is called up to fight for territory and weaken the enemy.
Armed with a Canon 80D equipped with a 50mm lens, I spent months in the Americans’ space so that they would be comfortable with me.
The image forms part of an on-going documentary project in which my approach is to become a part of the community — a simulation of what and whom I could have become had I grown up on the Cape Flats.
Ali Greef is a student at the Market Photo Workshop