Mikhael Subotzky — Beaufort West
Past: November 4 → December 10, 2011
For some two or three kilometres, the N1, the great highway that traces South Africa’s north/south axis, becomes Beaufort’s West’s main street. About a million people pass through each year, and in the evenings, an assortment of the town’s 37 000 residents come out to meet them. They offer all the commodities a night traveller might want: food, drink and petrol, a place to stay, an hour’s worth of sex. In exchange for their wares, Beaufort West’s people are preserving a frail connection with the world. Without its national road, this town, some three-quarters of its residents unemployed, would surely be lost unto itself.
Like many small South Africa towns, Beaufort West is still highly segregated. The quiet streets of the town itself are clustered around the main road and still house an almost exclusively white population. They go their daily lives largely unaware of what goes on in the outlying townships where the majority of the population live.
The local jail, too, is on the main road, and it is what caught Mikhael Subotzky’s attention: ‘I was drawn to Beaufort West because its prison is bizarrely situated in a traffic circle in the centre of the town in the middle of the N1 highway,’ Subotzky says. ‘Most South African prisons are hidden from view on the outskirts of our towns and cities. I was interested in this image of the prison at the centre of the town.’