Youngsters tell their stories with Ilizwi

ilizwi---textMembers of Ilizwi Photo Club are documenting their lives in the townships of Cape Town. (Image: Ilizwi Facebook)

Teenagers the world over have plenty of gripes; in South Africa’s disadvantaged areas, one of their issues is not having a platform to express themselves creatively. It is this need that Ilizwi Photo Club seeks to meet.

Ilizwi is a youth development initiative that works with young people in under-resourced communities. It encourages creative self-expression through photography so that they can voice their stories visually.

The talented young photographers seek to become actively involved in their communities and tell the stories that matter most to them. Ilizwi photographers come from several schools in Khayelitsha, in Cape Town. The photo club was launched in 2011, and is based on the belief that through photojournalism we are able to gain an insight into societies’ needs and values. It is such a valuable tool in making sense of the world around us and gives us an insight into the students’ lives.


Started by Meghan Daniels, who was in matric at the time, Ilizwi means “voice” in isiXhosa. The programme was a by-product of a youth leadership forum Daniels attended in 2010. At that forum, participants were encouraged to initiate a community action project.

Speaking about her Ilizwi Photo Club project, Daniels said it allowed the members to raise social awareness in their communities and ultimately become advocates of change. “The Ilizwi photographers want South Africa and the world to know the realities of township life. They have a burning desire to improve their community through visual images.”

The photographers are armed with Coolpix cameras and one digital SLR donated to the project by Nikon.

At the start of the project, Daniels interviewed, selected and trained 10 Grade 11 and 12 learners from Luhlaza High School in Khayelitsha. This training, which took place over 10 weekends, included a practical aspect – looking for social issues in the township to photograph and highlight, as well as facets of beauty in township life.

Inspiration, Daniels said, came from giants such as Alf Kumalo, the legendary South African documentary photographer and photojournalist; Ernest Cole, another photographer from the Drum golden era; and, Santo Mofokeng, a South African artist and photographer.


Daniels was the recipient of the 2011 Youth Spirit Award from the Amy Biehl Youth Spirit Awards for her work on Ilizwi. She won a R25 000 Damelin bursary for her efforts, which was useful as she was completing her matric.

Amy Elizabeth Biehl was a white American graduate of Stanford University and an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. She was murdered by black Cape Town residents in 1993, a year before South Africa held its first democratic elections.

Biehl was in South Africa as a student at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, as a scholar on the Fulbright Program. Following her death, in 1994, Biehl’s parents, Linda and Peter, founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust to develop and empower youth in the townships, in order to discourage further violence.