I find Nicholas Eppel’s photographs of Elizabeth Barrett striking because it reveals the intimate details of the on-going, ordinary life of a woman in urban Cape Town. That she dedicated herself and her meagre resources to philanthropic work of caring for orphaned children makes her story particularly heart-warming. But it’s the way the images bring home the frailty and sensitivity of her world, of her home, that quietly stood as a buffer against apartheid and later, the grand schemes of ‘improvement through creative design’ that is the vogue in contemporary Cape Town, that make for compelling viewing. Having been incinerated, raised tragically before Christmas, the images hark hauntingly to a world, a home that is no longer there.
On a recent trip to South Africa, I managed to fit in a visit to the Voortrekker Monument, the enormous mausoleum on a hilltop just outside the capital Pretoria. The monument, which celebrates Afrikaner nationalism, was begun in 1938 on the centenary of the Great Trek, and inaugurated by the recently installed National Party eleven years later on December 16, 1949 (the anniversary of the Boers’ triumph over the Zulu at Blood River).