Legendary lensman David Goldblatt’s last book takes ex-offenders to the scene of their crimes

One of the country’s top jurists, Justice Edwin Cameron, said a decision by legendary lensman David Goldblatt to relocate his photographic collection from the University of Cape Town (UCT) to Yale University in the United States, in protest at their silence after artworks were desecrated during the fees must fall protests, has potentially ended up saving his work from ruin.

Cameron said there was a sense of “anguished relief” at this decision, as the recent fires in the Western Cape destroyed parts of Table Mountain; and archives and buildings at the UCT.

Speaking during the posthumous launch of Goldblatt’s last book on Monday, Cameron said sending the photographic collection to Yale was an act of protest against the (then) vice-chancellor Max Price and his administration, who when these acts of desecration against artworks occurred at UCT between 2015 and 2016, remained cowered and silent.

“In fact, very few people spoke up for the values which are embodied in our constitution’s values of tolerance, values of artistic expression,” he said.

Cameron was addressing guests in Parktown, via Zoom, for the launch of Goldblatt’s book Ex-Offenders at the Scene of the Crime, saying that its release was significant as South Africa was celebrating 27 years of freedom as a democratic nation, under a Constitution committed to the rule of law, human dignity and equality.

Allan Heyl where he robbed his first bank in 1973, Main Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town. 21 September 2011. Picture: David Goldblatt

Allan Heyl where he robbed his first bank in 1973, Main Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town. 21 September 2011. Picture: David Goldblatt

Goldblatt died on 25 June 2018 after a battle with cancer.

His book was released by the David Goldblatt Legacy Trust, Wits Justice Project and Goodman Gallery. Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime is a poignant pictorial essay aimed at demystifying inmates or criminals. Published by the iconic German publisher Gerhard Steidl, the book features a harrowing selection of pictures and essays of inmates taken at the scene of the crime or the facility where they were incarcerated in South Africa and England between 2008 and 2016.

Cameron was one of several speakers on the night with effusive praise for the enduring legacy of Goldblatt and he also spoke out on pertinent burning issues in society.

His book was released by the David Goldblatt Legacy Trust, Wits Justice Project and Goodman Gallery. Ex-Offenders at the Scene of Crime is a poignant pictorial essay aimed at demystifying inmates or criminals. Published by the iconic German publisher Gerhard Steidl, the book features a harrowing selection of pictures and essays of inmates taken at the scene of the crime or the facility where they were incarcerated in South Africa and England between 2008 and 2016.

Cameron was one of several speakers on the night with effusive praise for the enduring legacy of Goldblatt and he also spoke out on pertinent burning issues in society.

Tsokolo Mokoena and Fusi Mofokeng at the scene of a shoot-out between members of the ANC armed wing and the South African Police, outside Bethlehem. 14 December 2012. Picture: David Goldblatt

Tsokolo Mokoena and Fusi Mofokeng at the scene of a shoot-out between members of the ANC armed wing and the South African Police, outside Bethlehem. 14 December 2012. Picture: David Goldblatt

But the dark side, according to Cameron, was that for many inmates, access to education and rehabilitation programs are considered luxuries, not entitlements in the prison system.

“The budget that the Department of Correctional Services provides continues to undervalue these programs. So in this sense, the system is not working. And many of the ex-offenders are forced back into a cycle of crime.”

Cameron, who made his remarks on the eve of the 27th anniversary of SA’s democracy, concluded reading from Goldblatt’s notes in the book, a sombre sentence, in which he said: “Only that I wish that we had done better with what became possible in 1994.”

“That's true for all of us, only that we have all done better, and we can still do better. David Goldblatt has died now. But we are living and we can do better. We can do better with our criminal justice system; we can do better with tolerance on campus. We can do better against intimidation and violence and coercion on campus. These profoundly articulate the opportunities available to us in our continuing quest to do better with what was made possible in 1994,” Cameron said.


*This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent

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