Mpumelelo Buthelezi


Photojournalism & Documentary Photography // Market Photo Workshop

“I was born in the heart of the struggle, in Pimville in Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest township, a sprawl of formal and informal housing where culture drums the heartbeat of resistance. I was born in the year of democracy, 1994. They call us the ‘Born Frees’ but education didn’t come free.

I taught myself to become a photographer. I did it because I wanted to interpret the time and place I was born into, to tell the untold stories of the communities of my country, to present them as narratives, full lives lived in the margins. My parents had a different dream for me, their born free child. I was sent to study formally and I obtained a Diploma Degree in Engineering at the Central Johannesburg College in 2016 even though I knew I would never become an engineer. Now I could focus on my freedom, which was represented by my passion to take photos.

Everyone knew about the famous Market Photo Workshop, home to David Goldblatt and Zanele Muholi, and that’s where I studied Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, graduating in 2017, the year that protesting students finally won the first signs of a free education. My freedom now came equipped with technical skills and my journey has led me to the unfamiliar spaces of society that we are all familiar with but do not stop to examine”.

In his series The Raw Lifestyle of Hostel Dwellers, Mpumelelo depicts the mood and evolving lifestyle inside the Nance Field Hostel in Soweto. These ageing buildings, now encircled by informal settlements with an estimated population of 3000, used to be one of the apartheid government’s labour dormitories. It gained a fearsome reputation in the 1990s, due to political violence between hostel dwellers and people living in the surrounding areas.

Local residents have since turned the environment into a homely, tolerant and child-friendly one. It boasts one of the busiest Shisa Nyamas (a big barbeque in townships where people come together) called Mutah, which is famous for its chicken and pap menu and is more hygienic than other vendors in the area.

Mpumelelo is passionate about telling people’s stories, and hopes to develop his body of work both locally and internationally to bring attention to the lives of people in Soweto.

He has previously exhibited his work in South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. He was shortlisted for the Social Art Award last year.

The raw lifestyle of hostel dwellers 01
70 x 50 cm
R 10,000

The raw lifestyle of hostel dwellers 02
52.6 x 70 cm
R 12,000


2016 – 2017
Photojournalism & Documentary Photography, Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg.


Market Photo Workshop Student Gallery, Johannesburg.
Social Art Award, Germany.
Transitions Rotterdam Foto Festival, the Netherlands.
Solo exhibition, WeTilt, Italy.


Social Art Award, Shortlisted.

Nikon Hello Yellow Contest, 2nd Prize.