#838. Leaving home. Coming home.

By Paul Perton | Opinion

Mar 30

Of necessity, this is a long post – lots of words, that is. You have my apologies up front and can do a TL:DR and scroll down to the photographic content should you want.


I’m pretty much off topic here, but hope you’ll bear with me – there are lots of photographs to see.




As you will doubtless know my wife and I live near Cape Town in South Africa.


The disastrous nine year presidency and leadership reign of corruption of Jacob Zuma has devastated much of South Africa’s infrastructure and economy. This article was published a couple of days ago and while there is nothing new here, it details Zuma’s ascent, looting of the nation, legal difficulties and partial fall from grace in excellent detail. Take a few minutes to read and try to grasp the scope of the man’s greed and the mess the nation is grappling with, to put matters to rights. Or not, if some of the electoral polls are to be believed.


Our Post Office is incapable of delivering letters and parcels within weeks rather than days. The rail system is shambolic, often dangerous, poorly managed and run and even the crack inter-city expresses are almost always hours late arriving.


Justice, police and the prisons are best left unmentioned. South African Airways and the SABC (state broadcaster) are both on the verge of bankruptcy and often heard whining that they require more government bail outs (read taxpayers’ money) or are going to be unable to pay salaries at month’s end.


The official unemployment figure is 27%, although most of us believe it might be as much as 5%-7% higher even than that.


An additional government sponsored, opposition backed land expropriation without compensation bill is before parliament, although the nation’s constitution already details specific remedies for such situations. We are assured that this will only impact state owned land, but these are politicians speaking…


Against this backdrop, ESCOM, the state electricity provider is the engine that should be driving the economy. Instead, ESCOM is currently some €30bn in debt, the network is only able to deliver around 70% of the required demand and then only sometimes. South Africa has been subjected to nationwide rolling electricity blackouts for several years, which recently, have been ramped-up; meaning two or three multi-hour outages a day. Our two new power stations – the world’s largest coal powered installations due to deliver 9600MW between them – are years late, billions over budget and largely useless because of dire levels of corruption, engineering and supervision. The electricity has been on and off more times than a bride’s nightie in recent days – and given the above, that’s hardly surprising.


The tiny Cape village we live in has suffered almost two dozen major lack-of-maintenance-related water leaks – requiring day-long periods of no water to facilitate repairs – since the beginning of December, with no end in sight.


Despite his recall a year ago by the ANC, the government is still held to ransom by the remnants of Zuma’s patronage network and current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, seems unable or incapable of even making a start on finding/arresting and jailing the culprits. This despite shipping containers full of incriminating evidence, several (highly respected) judge-led commissions of enquiry into state capture et al, yet not a single high level corrupt official has yet been arrested.


Not. One.


In fact, many/most are still on the ANC’s list of candidates for next month’s election. Go figure.


In desperation, the non-African sectors of the population are blamed by government for just about every ill the nation is suffering and the slide into racism, violence and civil war is becoming a constant threat, especially as our political hot heads seem ready to garner increased support in May’s upcoming general election.


Meantime, for our sanity and safety, we have rented a flat in London and will be travelling back and forth for a while. At least until the situation is clarified a bit and settles, or much more likely, this extraordinary country that has been our home for more than 40 years, slides into a Zimbabwe-style meltdown. If that happens, we won’t be there to witness the crash and will both be long dead before it gets fixed, if ever. 




Sunlight and shadows, St Pancras


The French House, Dean Street, Soho


Gate, Hackney


Blue gates at 71


Going elsewhere


HIgh tech, low tech


Glass abstract


Coal drop abstract


Winter sun, Bow


Union Jack(ish), Hackney


Bow shadows


Graffiti, Hackney


Street art abstract, Hackney


This last fortnight we’ve been a family living almost a normal life in London for the first time in more than a decade. Our adult children live here, our daughter has a four month old granddaughter and now, we have a lease to move into a flat in London Fields (Hackney) in April. But for the time being, we’re briefly back in South Africa, tidying up loose ends.


The trip was originally planned to enable us to find somewhere to live, but we managed that some weeks ago between our Up Hele Aa sojourn in the Shetlands and returning to South Africa at the beginning of February. We didn’t want to forfeit these two tickets, so for the last fortnight, we’ve been spending the kids’ inheritance buying furniture at IKEA and used much of my now free time walking the streets of east London, taking photographs.


Pascal Ravach’s recent DS post must have been on my mind; I’m not seeing anywhere near as many faces and people going about their business as I normally do. I’ve even seen less going elsewhere opportunities than usual. No. I’m looking for the London I grew up in, grubby walls, broken cars and trucks, evidence of industrial archaeology, although I know so much of it has been swept away in the name of gentrification and an improved quality of life.


Still, I have found some interesting things to photograph. And that makes me pleased I limited my camera choice(s) and concentrated on the end result I wanted. In short, I packed the inimitable Fuji X100F for pocketable and unobtrusive street use and my X-Pro2 with 23mm/35mm/56mm lenses for everything else.


I love my X-Pros (I have a -1 and the -2) for their honesty and ability to produce images that I know I couldn’t deliver with any other camera I own. They even surpass my X-H1 in delivering some types of photograph.


Now I have a clue; when I leave Cape Town for London at the end of May, I’ll have both X-Pros, the primes above and the SBH (16-55 zoom) in my bag. I may also bring my Leica M9 and a couple of it’s magnificent primes as well. Those lenses will also do double duty on the Fuji bodies, with Fuji’s excellent X -> M mount adaptor. It will also mean that if there is a maintenance issue with the M9, it can be done locally and not over a 16,000km return trip to Europe.


Is that the start of a change in my photography? I don’t think so, more of what the railways call a positioning move. I’ve now got some nice ideas for my months-long stints in London and a way to bring them to fruition. I’ll doubtless share more of them with you soon.


Graffiti door – Hackney


She Bar – Soho


Graffiti, King’s Cross


Leon, King’s Cross


Graffiti or art? Hackney


Graffiti, Hackney


Giant Steps, Hackney


Old sign – Hackney


Street art, Hackney


Graffiti, Hackney


Street art, Hackney

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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Sigh – I’ve no idea of you employment or career position, or your finances – but it seems to me you need to move, and you’re trying to avoid it. (Hint – don’t leave it till you’re the last to jump ship.) You have to make your own decisions and I shouldn’t interfere, so I’ll shut up.
    Are London’s graffiti experts now dyslectic, or did you reverse some of those images? I have an interesting one I use to test people with, but no idea how to post it in one of these comments.
    The SheBar promo was interesting – what’s inside? Sigh (again) – I’m too far away, too old, and too monogamous, I’ll never be able to find out. 🙂
    I think you’re reasonably safe from the hordes with their selfie sticks. Venues that are only open 3 days (for a total or 28 hours) a week, must either charge a lot or have another source of income.

  • Mike says:

    Just one point: we are all africans here, some just lighter or darker than others.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Only a true artist can turn something as unpleasant as this into something as visually interesting for others! Thanks Paul. And I wish you all the happiness in the world in London.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Once again, Paul you’re making lemonade out of lemons with your photography! As you know, I’m a big fan of grubby back alley shooting, and you’ve captured some wonderful bits and pieces. What’s happening in SA is a tragedy for the world. Letting such a beautiful country fall apart due to poor leadership is hard to watch, much less live in. I agree with Jean Pierre, don’t wait too long to jump ship. I’m happy that you’ve found a refuge in London with your kids and grandchild. Keep your chin up and know that we’re here for you. Keep on shooting, my friend!

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Thanks for allowing a bit of my soul to travel with you, Paul 😀
    I hope to have the pleasure to meet you one day somewhere… maybe in front of a “Ploughman’s Lunch” and a pint of ale… I lived in England once, and I must confess that I miss mostly the pubs 🙂

    Never had the opportunity to say this, but my sweetheart be my witness: your pics keep fascinating me since day one… you have “an eye” for those little things, and I recognize that your Fuji colors (and PP?) never fail to “draw me in”… she sometimes laughed at me for saying once more “damn, I wish I had taken *this* pic”…
    All your captures are alive, as usual… “Sunlight and shadows, St Pancras”, “Leon, King’s Cross” touch me a lot.
    Thanks for being a constant inspiration!

    • paulperton says:

      Thanks Pascal. I’m working on a cunning plan to extend this small group of images into a complete suite. I’m also hoping to see more of Pascal and Philippe in the coming months. Hopefully, you’ll be able tp join us.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Well, I must add… spent a lot of time looking at “Sunlight and shadows, St Pancras”… I find it’s color palette makes it a Northern Sister Soul to Tropical “Vietnam 6″… small world!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thanks for putting flesh on the bare bones of Swedish news on South Africa, those devastating consequences haven’t really been reported here.
    ( I find sad similarities to Venezuela – although that started differently – and to some extent Hungary.)

    Is there any hope for something that will shock the old guard enough to change course?
    – – –

    Your photos give me a lot of enjoyment.
    But I keep coming back to
    “Sunlight and shadows” and “Going elsewhere”.

    • paulperton says:

      Hi Kristian. Change course?

      Sadly not.

      If you were allowed to have your hands deep in the nation’s fiscal coffers and know that there was almost no chance of being caught and/or punished, would you change your ways?

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Of course,
        but I was thinking (and should have said so) of the many followers-supporters who at most receive pennies.
        I wondered if a real shock (of the right kind) might (?) lessen their support enough to make a change possible. Or are too many of the voters out for their share?
        ( Malaysia recently underwent a change of mind of voters, but the result is still to be seen.)

        • paulperton says:


          It was expected that poverty and hardship would be slowly eradicated once the majority government took office in 1994. Instead, the scale of the situation remains much the same, if not worse. Education – the great hope of the third world – has been so badly compromised that many youngsters lack even the most basic reading and writing skills.

          So, despite all this, the voting patterns of the masses have barely changed in the 25 years since our majority government was first elected.

          Change? Not any time soon.

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            I see, Paul.
            And as old wounds in previous generations tend to influence the thinking and acting of future generations making real change harder, education is even more essential.

            • paulperton says:

              …and many, many highly regarded people in South Africa say that the education system is deliberately compromised, so as to not risk creating young minds that will vote against the status quo.

              • Kristian Wannebo says:

                Why am I not surprised…
                ( I’d be surprised if they turn out to be wrong.)

              • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

                The GOP has been surreptitiously doing that to the 99%, to dumb them down into floundering epsilon minuses, along the lines of “Brave New World”, for the past century. None of this surprises me any more.

                Dumbing down the population, to render them weak and incapable of protecting their own interests, is the behaviour of demagogues like Adolf Hitler. (We can talk about him safely, now – you see). I don’t like seeing the same thing happening elsewhere. But it does.

                Anyway, this group is supposed to stay out of politics, so I’ll shut up about it. 🙂

  • William Langford says:

    It is most unfortunate that unbridled greed and graceless piggery have become the norm with the leadership of many nations.

  • Pascal B. says:

    Dear Paul,

    Beyond the always deserved congratulations on your photography, my heart goes out to you.

    I went to South Africa in 1986 for the first time (on business) and immediately fell in love with the country and its people.

    I liked it so much that my wife and I went to various places on our honeymoon 25 odd years ago.

    The gentleman running the local operation of the family business eventually took it over from us, and some years later left with his family to go and live in New Zealand.

    I watched with a broken heart the country slowly but surely slipping, each leader proving systematically worse than his predecessor after Mandela.

    I can hardly imagine how painful it must be for you and and your family and express my deepest sympathy.

    Warmest wishes in difficult times.

    • paulperton says:

      Thanks Pascal. With little invested here any more and our (South Africa born, grown up) kids already living in London for almost a decade, this is a relatively straightforward semi-relocation. If things get much worse down here (I’m still in Cape Town at present), the move will mean less and less time spent here and more there.

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