Pimville, Soweto

3976811035_b50ec5dc0c_o2(From the upcoming 4xAfrica show at Rayko SF. Click on the image for a larger version.)

Pimville, Soweto, South Africa, 2009.

As an outsider, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear of crime that permeates life in South Africa–especially around Johannesburg, which just a few years ago had a violent crime rate four times that of Colombia during its civil war. In the late 1990s, a gorilla called Max became one of Jo’burg’s hottest celebrities. One day a burglar named Isaac Mofokeng, on the run from the cops, took refuge in the gorilla cage at the Johannesburg Zoo. Resenting this intrusion, Max attacked Mofokeng, and Mofokeng shot him, which only made Max angrier. Mofokeng barely survived the mauling. The bullets barely hurt “Mad Max,” as he came to be called.

In the run-up to last year’s World Cup, papers around the world predicted that visitors to South Africa would be beaten and robbed in record numbers, that no one would return alive. It didn’t happen, mainly because while the crime is real, it’s only part of the story.