Fonds AL3274 - Gille de Vlieg Photographic Collection

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Gille de Vlieg Photographic Collection


  • 1989 (Accumulation)
  • 1983 - 1994 (Accumulation)

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Extent and medium

Approximately 700 digital images

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

Activist and photographer Gille De Vlieg was born in England. A trained nurse, she worked in Pietermaritzburg and London before moving to Johannesburg where she became a member of the Black Sash in 1982. Her activism in Black Sash led to her involvement in the Transvaal Rural Action Committee (TRAC), and an introduction into chaotic township lifestyle further inspired her to “show the alternative view of South Africa”, as she came to realise that she could be both activist and photographer.

In 1984, after documenting various “black spots” in the rural Transvaal, she met Afrapix founder member Paul Weinberg who encouraged her to join the collective photo agency and library founded two years earlier. Afrapix brought together a number of photographers who became known for using the camera as a weapon against apartheid. Before 1980, most of these photographers worked independently from each other. With the aim of stimulating documentary photography, Afrapix’s collective approach became one of sharing skills and ideas. Photography generated during this period also became known as ‘struggle photography’. Afrapix was dissolved in 1991 as South Africa’s international isolation ended.

In the late 1980s Gille De Vlieg participated in the Culture in Another South Africa Conference, Amsterdam, and other group exhibitions. In 2009 she exhibited at the National Arts Festival and at the Durban Art Gallery in an exhibition entitled ‘Rising Up Together’. She lives in KwaZulu-Natal.

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

The collection consists of black and white digital images, sorted by year from 1983 to 1989.

Gille De Vlieg started her photographic career in 1983, and this collection documents her journey through the different provinces of South Africa (North West, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Limpopo, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal) to explore and capture events and issues as they happened. She has been meticulous in dating her photographs, so events unfold chronologically through her lens.

She manages to reflect the tranquility of typical day to day life in a serene rural setting, in contrast to the more harsh township lifestyle, against the stark contrast of the sometimes violent political activities of the era. The repetition of certain themes through the years, such as land removals, mass funerals, political protests, etc. further strengthens her body of work as a document to the turbulent political past. Capturing gender and lifestyle issues, for example depicting women embroidering, making batik patterns on cloth, pottery, basket-making, always remain an important part of her work throughout.

Each year, however, is marked by specific political, cultural or other events:-

1983 is a small collection of 7 photo’s of rural lifestyle in the mostly North West province.

1984 focuses on the political activities of the UDF, Cosas and ECC, while 1985, still focusing on the UDF, also shifts to detentions, police brutality and the Mandela Rally in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

1986 is dominated by images of the anti-harassment campaign, death penalty protest, Black Sash activities, and protests against the anti-incorporation into Bophutatswana. Many prominent people feature in these photos, amongst others, David Webster, Winnie Mandela, Sheena Duncan, Frank Chikane, Beyers Naude, Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Helen Suzman.

1987 contains a smaller number of photographs, and focuses mostly on the effect of the apartheid land removals on women’s everyday existence. Prison releases show photos of activist lawyer Priscilla Jana, Epinette and Govan Mbeki, Albertina Sisulu.

1988 brings an interesting angle to the collection as De Vlieg captures Afrikaner nationalism in all its glory during the 150th Celebration of the Groot Trek (unfortunately not in this collection), and Day of the Vow (Gelofte Dag) celebrations at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. With people like Betsie Verwoerd, PW Botha, FW de Klerk, Pik Botha, Eugene Terreblanche on his horse, she catches the essence of the Afrikaner of the day! She also photographs the AWB swinging their flag with a swastika against the Voortrekker Monument as backdrop.This year also features a large number of photos of the REEA Care Centre.

1989 contains a small collection of photos of street scenes in Harare, Zimbabwe and of Namibia, including Herero and Himba people. Back in South Africa the images of this year focus on street children, evicted and homeless people, and township lifestyle of Tembisa and Eureka, and the ANC Welcome Home Rally for Robben Island leaders.

19 photographs taken by De Vlieg in the township of Tembisa in 1984-1990 were added to the collection in 2011. These photographs were part of an exhibition 'Entering Tembisa - an oral and photographic exploration of the community' which was hosted in the Tembisa West Library to celebrate Heritage Day 2011. This exhibition forms part of an oral history and archival collection project on Tembisa, conducted by SAHA in 2010 and 2011.

While Gille de Vlieg is responsible for the digitisation of some of her photographs, the majority was digitised by Africa Media Online (AMO), a Pietermaritzburg based organisation, in 2009.

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This collection is open for research

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