/ 23 July 2021

The Portfolio: Cedric Nunn

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Ultimate sacrifice: The funeral of two youths abducted and killed in the ‘Natal War’ in 1987. Photo: Cedric Nunn

In the early 1980s and onwards, I found myself caught up in the spiral of violence that gripped our country as the struggle for liberation intensified. Those acts of resistance were mostly led by the youth and they paid a heavy price for them; being imprisoned, tortured, maimed and killed. 

In the mid-1980s, the violence took another turn when proxy forces were mobilised by the apartheid state, and what is now known as the “Natal War” broke out. It was in that context that this image of the funeral of two United Democratic Front-affiliated youths was made, depicting a couple of the many, many youths who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our political freedom.

This image, which I made as a freelance photographer, was to be the cause of much soul searching, as I came to realise that I, too, was benefitting from the violence. 

While the youth paid in blood and their lives, power agendas benefited, as did others such as the media.

Our country’s choices post-1994, especially those regarding the economic model, have resulted in the loss of millions of jobs, the decline in industry, non-existent land reform, the decimation of the unions and an economy that remains in the hands of those it belonged to pre-1994. 

The state has seemed powerless in providing the conditions for new entrants to the economy, which is linked largely to the conditions imposed by the neoliberal economy to which we are bound. But also to the fact that we have a political body in the ANC that is seen as black and previously opposed to apartheid white capital, which is still firmly in the driver’s seat, along with transnational corporations. 

The youth have become pawns of political factions who rival each other for power. 

My heart bleeds for the youth of my generation who made the ultimate sacrifice. It also bleeds for the youth of the past two decades, in large part betrayed by my generation who bartered their future for short-term goals.