Bambo Sibiya Springs, South Africa, b. 1986

Sibiya draws on traditional printmaking techniques and works with acrylic and charcoal on canvas. His work centres around the spirit of ‘Ubuntu Ngabantu’, a term deriving from Zulu philosophy and translating roughly into ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.


My recent series focuses on early township life and each work looks into the subculture that started in the mining industry. I’m really fascinated about how the migrating community survive away from home.  A lot of young men and women moved from rural areas to Johannesburg in the early days of South Africa searching for a better life. The mining industry was the main source of work and being the time of apartheid, it was not easy for a lot of black people to endure. Apart from facing the white power, they had to deal with their own social issues. But what captures my attention is how they fought back to their challenges and how they created this subculture to keep going.


Music, board games, fashion, sport and dance were important parts of daily life. We celebrate the Ladies Smith Black Mambazo today but this music was commonly known in the hostels where miners lived. They sang to free themselves from stress, from the action or pain that was inflicted on them during working hours. They would come together in the evening to sing and parody their bosses’ behaviour. 


The culture of Swenkas that has spread across the world started with the hostel dwellers, who used to dress up and parade in their spare time. The Swenkas are South African workers who have found a unique way to channel their self-respect, their creativity, and their hope in the future. They inhabited a worker's hell that Apartheid created and modern South African society can't seem to dismantle. Hard lives, miserable living conditions and long separations from families would beat down even the strongest men. The Swenkas believe in cleanliness, pride, chaste behaviour, and support for one another to give themselves hope in their grim world. Healthy, humorous competition for the best-attired man gave them joy, while snappy clothing and male model performances are exercises in dignity and self-determination.


A radio played a significant role in these communities as a source of communication, a time when cell phones were not around or rather too expensive to afford. They always tuned in and listened to a program called ‘ngikhonzele’, which means please send a ‘shout out’. It was here they would come to know about the lives of their loved ones left behind at home. Their lives were dominated by the spirit of Ubuntu.

Bambo Sibiya