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The Portfolio: Nocebo Bucibo

If a family tree falls in the middle of a township and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If someone is around but fails to tell the tale, did the tree fall in the first place? If there are thousands of these trees falling at the same time, with each making a sound, which tale is there to tell? 

As a tool of putting action to interest, David Goldblatt founded the Market Photo Workshop in 1989, with the intention of ensuring that visual literacy reaches neglected and marginalised communities — the many townships with many a falling tree, to no sound.  

It’s the early 1990s, before the 1994 elections, and 688 trees have fallen in the hostels of Thokoza, the first township to spring in the south of Gauteng. The tree-fellers were the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), with state-orchestrated sociopolitical tension as their axe. 

A twig-throw away, swinging on a seesaw with destiny on the other end is a young visual storyteller, who, almost two decades later, would dedicate her life’s work to the tales of the falling trees of Thokoza.  

“My journey into the hostels has its roots in the early ’90s. I lived close to the hostels in Thokoza during the violent conflict between the IFP and the ANC. I have spent a decade photographing in the hostels: this began in 2010 as a BTech student at Vaal University of Technology,” says Nocebo Bucibo, lecturer at the Market Photo Workshop. 

Bucibo is also PhD candidate for photography at the University of Pretoria, where she is exploring the role of photography in the production of the Thokoza hostels as spaces.

“My master’s dissertation, completed at Wits University, explored the concept of a ‘just image’ and its place in the theory and practice of photography. Pursuing the just image is particularly important in the fundamentally unequal and complex act of photographing the lived experiences of residents in South African hostels.” 

There was a kind of quiet in her text, a stout, calming certainty of sorts. “Hostels are not a relic of the past. They continue to play a vital role in accommodating city residents, with some of the hostels being converted into apartments and family units. 

“Hostels are more than just a form of housing in brick and mortar. They possess a spirit. I am continuing my quest for just imagery in the telling of South Africa’s hostel story,” Bucibo beams. 

Bucibo is a lecturer at the Market Photo Workshop. This photograph forms part of her masters dissertation, which was done through the University of the Witwatersrand.

Applications for the Market Photo Workshop 2021 courses are open. For more information, visit

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