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Studio Africa: Uviwe Mangweni

Uviwe Mangweni is an endlessly curious photojournalist and copywriter from South Africa documenting hidden stories with sensitivity

“There are so many stories to be told,” says Uviwe Mangweni, a photojournalist and copywriter based in Johannesburg in South Africa. “I’ve always been curious and into things that are different; wanting to get out my bubble, out of my comfort zone.” She was born and brought up in Cape Town but moved to Johannesburg six years ago to study and ended up staying. “It’s a great place for creatives because there’s so much happening and so much inspiration to draw on constantly. It’s always changing.”

As the youngest in her family - she has two older brothers - Uviwe thinks that helped nurture her independent thinking: “I always went off on my own and did my own thing.” Photography started out as a creative outlet when she was at university and then, when she took journalism for her honors subject, she got into photojournalism. Her natural curiosity has led to her pursuing stories with a distinct sociopolitical edge. “South Africa is a very separated place. There’s a lot of separation - racial lines, economic lines. Spaces are also very segregated,” she explains. With her work she wants to “delve into a world that you’re not usually exposed to, that you’re not used to and get acquainted with things and bring that back, show it to people. It opens your world.”

One of her first projects was spending a week with the residents of an ex-mining town on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It was a mind-opening experience. “It’s not even a town, it’s a settlement where all the miners used to live,” she explains. “Johannesburg is a mining city, that’s the foundation of the Jo’Burg history. So that’s where all the miners used to stay but the kind of derelict conditions they live in now - it’s a very different world that I’m used to daily. In the city, having access to everything, being able to read and write are things that I take for granted. I spent time with this woman who couldn’t read and she had a daughter who had a fungus on her feet and she hadn’t done anything about it. When I asked her about this thing she was kind of like, I don’t know what’s going on. I asked her would she like to go to hospital and get it checked out and she said yes but she doesn’t have money to travel to the hospital.”

“This is in Johannesburg!” she exclaims, indignant. “We eventually went to the hospital and got that checked out but for me it was interesting because it’s things you take for granted and it’s in the city. So the kind of contradictions that you find, around you, next door - if you look, if you spend some time you will see. Don’t take it for granted that because we’re here, living this life in Jo’Burg where everyone has access to healthcare -but not everyone has money for a taxi to go access that healthcare and so on, and so on. So yeah, life is complicated.”

While for now Uviwe splits her time working as a copywriter - “That’s my daily bread,” she says - she’s working towards going freelance so she can focus more on her own projects. “Just telling amazing stories in the best way I can, the most honest way I can” is her goal in the long term. “I guess everyone wants recognition because that enables more people to access the work that you do. More people get to see your stories and more people have these discussions about them - that’s the part that’s really great, the discussion that come out of these things. Under that banner, that would be the dream.”