Khomo e Kopanya Lichaba

Kabelo Mokoena – 2019 Tierney fellow

with writing by Pontsho Pilane

Kgomo e Kopanya Ditjhaba’ began as an investigation into urban farming in Soweto and unfolded into an unintended journey of self-discovery for photographer, Kabelo Mokoena. First encountered as an unusual scene at an intersection in Orlando West, the sight of livestock in the city, compelled him to spend two-years with local farmers and herdsmen who imparted their understanding of rearing and trading of livestock as an inter-generational profession and family legacy. South African journalist, Pontso Pilane layers Mokoena’s images with her reflections on this journey and the experiences of his collaborators who point to the social complexities of urban farming in the city of Johannesburg. ‘Kgomo e Kopanya Ditjhaba’ is a Sesotho proverb, meaning ‘a cow unites nations’ and reaffirms the significance of livestock to African cultures and to Mokoena’s journey into becoming a father and a photographer.

It was a typical scene in Soweto

It was a typical scene in Soweto, like many other townships across South Africa, along the main road next to Orlando Stadium. Cars were bustling and people were walking to and from work, school, or other errands. Taxi drivers honked their horns in melody. Passengers signalled an assortment of destinations: index finger pointed down meant a local trip; index finger pointed up meant a trip to the Johannesburg CBD. On that day, Kabelo approached the busy intersection where Klipspruit Valley Road and Martha Louw Street met. He was coming from Pimville, headed to his mother’s house in Meadowlands, before he had to make a sudden stop.

“I couldn’t believe it. Cows in the middle of a township,” he remembered. “Who do they belong to? What are they for? Who looks after them? And where are they being ushered to?”

A man – presumably a herdsman – was directing the cattle across the busy intersection. Bewildered at the sight of cattle in the middle of Orlando township — a first sighting for the native Sowetan — he drove off that day with a lingering feeling. Seeing the cattle that day gnawed at a desire for his home. That feeling would be more than just a curiosity of seeing cattle in the township. It would lead him on a journey of coming home to himself. His longing for home — — but the one he constructed in his imagination from years of witnessing friends and neighbours leave the township during the December festive season to visit family ko hae. The great Gauteng migration of Dezemba, as amagoduka trek back to areas previously classified as apartheid bantustans.

“I wanted a home outside of Soweto”, Kabelo explains. “My mother is from Meadowlands and my father settled in Soweto decades ago with no ties with his family back eNquthu, in KwaZulu Natal. Because of unresolved family conflicts, he cannot bring himself to talk about”.  


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