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Young South Africa: Umuzi Photo Club

Umuzi Photo Club


Umuzi Photo Club is doing some incredible work with the youth of Johannesburg and surrounding areas. We chatted to Andrew Levy of the Umuzi team to find out what they’re doing and how it’s helping. Read all about it:


Between 10and5: How did the Umuzi photo club come about?


Andrew Levy: Umuzi Photo Club was started in 2009 by David Dini, a New Yorker living in South Africa. David had a passion for media and youth development and thus combined the two to create the photo club, which at the time provided a creative outlet for young people to engage with social issues in a fun and interactive manner. Little did we know that our project that started with one-time-use film cameras would emerge into a household name in youth activism.


10and5: Why photography, why South Africa and why high school students?


Andrew: In our workshops, photography has given us an opportunity to engage with young people about issues that they normally wouldn’t engage with. Furthermore photography transcends the language barrier thus providing an effective means of communication. South Africa has a rich history of youth activism, but in recent times, the youth have battled to have a voice in their communities. We are therefore excited to provide a platform for young people to take back their voices in a creative, interactive and productive manner.


10and5: What kind of cameras do the learners use?


Andrew: Our students learn mostly about the story telling side of photography, which is how to effectively convey a certain message with a series of stills. For these activities, we use simple point and shoot digital cameras. However, for those learners who show exceptional passion for pursuing photography as a career path, we facilitate technical training on Sigma and Canon DSLRs


Umuzi Photo Club


10and5:  If anything, what has surprised you about the content they choose to shoot?

Andrew: I’m continuously surprised by how effective creating media has been as a mechanism for engaging youth. Morgan, one of our grade 11 learners, shot a fascinating photo essay on a community who live in what’s called “cat boxes” in Alexandra, a completely hidden world of people living in cardboard partitioned quarters in an old warehouse. Their lives and living conditions must be some of the toughest in South Africa.


Another learner, Tshepang, sat with a homeless woman several days visually documenting her life story. I was amazed that this homeless woman, who we pass every day, has such a compelling story about the hardships of living in Johannesburg.


Umuzi Photo Club


10and5: What strengths does being an amateur photographer bring to their photographs?


Andrew: By being an amateur photographer these learners can really bring out more detail to their photographs, which adds an incredible layer of complexity to the story that they foretell. I recall a great photograph by one of our star learners Captain who used the rule of thirds and lighting to capture a young kid on top of a shack at sunset mimicking a bird in flight. His understanding of more complex compositional photography gave the picture more meaning and more layers to what he was trying to say by shooting this boy silhouetted in the top corner like that.



Captain's photo


10and5: How technical do the workshops get?


Andrew: We really try to focus more on composition to enhance our student’s story telling abilities. If we find that a learner has incredible talent for photography and wants to take it further we will take them through a more technical set of workshops and partner with professional photographers to give insight into not only the technical side of things but the business end as well.


10and5: What has been your greatest challenge so far?


Andrew: Our greatest challenge has been to create a sustainable model for funding the organization. To address this challenge, we have launched the Umuzi Agency, which gives an opportunity to our learners to shadow professional photographers on commercial shoots to practice and enhance their skills. We have done work for companies like Investec, SA Parliament, Vodacom, Draftfcb, Edgars, VW and Red Bull. We are working towards a completely sustainable model from these activities so that we can build an even greater presence.


Umuzi Photo Club


10and5: And the greatest reward?


Andrew: Launching our “I am an activist” campaign earlier this year was just mind blowing, to see the learners stand up in front of people from different walks of life in Joburg and tell their stories was just fantastic. Our learners’ passion to make a difference in their life and their communities is inspiring. Thapelo transformed his story of one being just a statistic in South Africa’s poor matric failure results to going on to doing night school, passing his matric and getting accepted as the youngest learner into the highly esteemed Market Photo Workshop PDP program. He has also recently hosted an exhibition in the UK showcasing some of his earlier world cup 2010 work.




Recently 4 of our learners, Tebogo, Evidence, Tebza and Maisara were nominated to go to a youth leadership summit in Johannesburg. Jimmy and Tshepang have just come back from Cape Town’s Open forum summit representing the youth voice in Johannesburg. Our Diepsloot learners started an incredible movement called the Diepsloot Change Association (DCA) where by they work with local government to identify service delivery issues in Extension 7 and try to make changes to those issues. We are hoping the DCA will gain enough momentum to look out for the whole of the Diepsloot area. All these stories have happened over the last 4 months. Our movement is growing and the positive stories are becoming bigger and better with more impactful change.


Umuzi Photo Club


10and5: Do many of the learners that you work with aspire to be photographers?


Andrew: The likes of Thapelo, Captain, Rudzani, Thsepang and Lorraine are to name a few who not only want to be the next great photo journalist but are actively pursuing this career. Currently we are looking for more opportunities for learners to follow Thapelo’s path and get a tertiary backed education in photography and have approached some of the photo schools around Joburg to partner with.


10and5: Besides photography, what else do you hope to teach them?


Andrew: Umuzi in the last 18 months has really developed into a youth activism organization using creative media as a medium to engage young people to make a difference. Big on the agenda is for us to teach these learners how to be leaders within their communities and how to create campaigns to make change. Small projects like our June 16 Youth Day positive message poster campaign, the DCA project and the school teen pregnancy dialogues are just some of the stepping-stones to making a difference. We believe that active citizens can make a change and so we are giving our learners opportunities, like our Constitutional Court workshops, to know their rights and teach others about their rights too.


Umuzi Photo Club on Youth Day, 16 June 2012. Video courtesy of Mail&Guardian:




10and5: What has the project taught you?


Andrew: Four years ago I was just another South African living behind the walls of suburban ignorance. Umuzi has broken those walls down and reshaped my entire way of thinking. I am supposed to be the educator and inspirer but truly I feel like I am being schooled and guided by these learners. Looking at Thapelo and his drive to succeed makes me want to do more. Watching Evidence who was an introverted youngster come out of her shell and rise up as a leader has made me want to do more and be more as a leader. I am blessed to be part of a change that is being driven by the youth of this country.


10and5: Where can people see the learners’ photographs?


Andrew: People can check out the website at or join the facebook group for constant updates. We also have a few exhibitions in different parts of the world throughout the year, which we would love 10and5 lovers to come and check out. Check out our twitter feed, @umuziphotoclub, for all the latest.


Umuzi Photo Club


10and5: Can you tell us about the ‘I am an Activist’ campaign, please:


Andrew: The “I am an activist” is a culmination of 18 months of hard work. Learners from 3 different communities launched their activism campaigns focusing on three main issues facing their communities. Those being teenage pregnancy in inner city Johannesburg, poor service delivery in Diepsloot and school drop outs in Alexandra. Our campaign launch encompassed four main aspects: a traditional gallery exhibition, a large format outdoor exhibition (posters of our activists were stuck all around Braamfontein to showcase the new wave of creative activists), a zine which showcased the issues the learners had highlighted and what they were doing about it in print form and some multimedia pieces of some of the stories of the individuals and how they faced some of these social issues. Following the launch will be a number of partnership programs and school roll outs that our learners themselves will lead.


10and5: Where to from here?


Andrew: More and more we see ourselves working in the activism campaign space. In the upcoming months we are looking to partner with Section 27, Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute and Amnesty International to facilitate creative activisism interventions. On the Umuzi agency front we are continuously looking for partners and projects to collaborate on to grow the scope of our professional creative services work – watch this space. We are also always looking for exciting opportunities to advance our work. If anyone is interested in partnering, collaborating or joining Umuzi please email us at


Umuzi Photo Club


We also had the opportunity to ask a few of the young Umuzi photographers some questions. This is what they had to say:




Thapelo Motsumi


What do you like about photography?


Being able to express myself differently from other people by capturing reality or moments in a single frame. It’s more powerful then a calling itself. Turning something that is worthless into a masterpiece within a space of seconds through photography is just the most amazing feeling.


What do you dream of becoming one day?


I would like to be the greatest photojournalist around by informing society of the world around them through my images and story telling ability. I believe this to be of key importance because an informed society is a democratic society.


What do you want the world to know about young South Africa?


As young people of South Africa I think we have the potential to change our nation into a better place. All we need is the support and the belief that it can be done ’cause South Africa has the talent. We are not just statistics as young people, we can make a difference.


Lorraine Sachane


What do you like about photography?


I can motivate and inspire people through my photographs without speaking their language.


What do you dream of becoming one day?


I dream of becoming an inspirer within my community. I want to lead change and make a difference.


What do you want the world to know about young South Africa?


Young South Africans have dreams, ambitions and with the right actions, support and guidance can do anything they set their minds to.




Tebogo Lebotse


What do you like about photography?


I like telling other peoples’ stories through photography. I really like fashion photography as well, there is something hip and cool about it.


What do you dream of becoming one day?


I want to become a music producer and fashion photographer. If that fails I think mechanical engineering is pretty cool.


What do you want the world to know about young South Africa?


That we are dedicated and driven about what we want to do and that we are looking forward to the future.




Evidence Thulo


What do you like about photography?


I like taking pictures that tell different stories about my life and my community, letting people know about good or bad things about our communities.


What do you dream of becoming one day?


I want to own my own film and production company


What do you want the world to know about young South Africa?


We dream big, we have a lot of potential and we can make it wherever we want because we have the African spirit.


Umuzi Photo Club


Umuzi Photo Club


Between 10 and 5