Mark Sobhani is a Texas-based documentary photographer represented by Zuma Press.
He is traveling to South Africa to document the FIFA World Cup’s impact on local communities. Please visit his Kickstarter site for more information and to support this project.

(To any mother-in-law types out there worried after my last post – I’m fine. I just needed a little sleep.)

Another day in another of Johannesburg’s larger townships. I spent this morning in Alexandra, amazed at how much activity there was for a weekday. Densely-packed informal housing line narrow, dusty roads as people and cars try to share the right-of-way. An estimated 470,000 people live in a 5 square mile area. Each ‘lot’ can have up to 10 or more cinder block and corrugated metal houses. Yes, there’s poverty and crime and all the bad stuff we hear about. But when I was both in Soweto and Alex, the overwhelming feeling I got was that for the most part, people are generally content — even happy. I’m not saying their elated to live the way they do, but they don’t wallow in it, either. This is their life. They enjoy it. They do what they can to make it better.

My fixer, Nandi, said there are many families in Johannesburg that trace back to Alexandra. Especially with the younger people, there’s a feeling that living in Alex is temporary, and that with education and other opportunities afforded them, they can obtain a better life. The problem, she said, is that most people who make it out of Alex don’t really come back, so there’s no reinvesting in the community to make it better.

First one to make a Lion King reference wins!

There's always cleaning going on. In just about every lot, someone was washing clothes. On the streets, municipal workers swept trash into piles, and car washes are a popular business.

Chicken feet. They eat them. (Not raw, though.)

Clothes. There's always clothes hanging out to dry.

Yup. More clothes. And tiny, little sockies.

Dusty roads get dustier when big trucks go by.

Barber shops are also popular.

Locking himself in the house.

All school kids are getting a four week winter break during the World Cup. Word.

Here's a World Cup drinking game for you. Every time you see an image of kids playing soccer with a ratty old, under-inflated ball on a street or dusty field, drink.

Barber shop.

Some people have nothing to do. They just sit and watch the world go by. And then someone comes along and puts a watermark on their head.

Shouldn't you be in school?

So, here’s the interesting thing about Alex: this community sits right across the freeway from one of the most upscale areas of Johannesburg. It’s true for all the townships. They aren’t way out on the outskirts of town. They’re kind of just plopped right in the middle of things. My guess is that since the townships have been around so long, the rest of the city just kinda grew around them. I’ll touch on this phenomena later. (And, yes, it is a phenomena!)


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