Back and Forth: A Photography Exhibit of Informal Cross Border Traders in Southern Africa

Date Publish: 
South Africa / Africa and Middle East

Teeming with shoppers, traders, truck drivers, and local residents,
the main road that runs through Musina, a town situated 10km south
of the South Africa-Zimbabwe land border, is a bustling centre of
activity. One Saturday, in 42-degrees Celsius heat, there was a
particular buzz around the large local supermarket, Spar, and the
smaller shops across the street. The reason: over 40 photographs
pinned up on the flag poles of the parking area in front of the
supermarket and at the shopping arcade across the street.

Families coming to do their weekly shopping and traders seeking
respite from the heat under the shade of the arcade were welcomed
by photographs documenting the lives of informal cross border
traders - photographs of female traders carrying bags of goods on
their heads, the money changer with wads of Zimbabwean notes,
hundreds of people and mountains of goods at the bus terminal in
downtown Johannesburg, and the weary face of a young girl waiting
for the bus to take her and her mother back home from Johannesburg,
where they regularly go to buy supplies for their shop in

These images are the outcome of Back and Forth, a photo
documentary project of IOM’s Partnership on HIV and Mobility
in Southern Africa (PHAMSA) programme, in collaboration with the
Market Photo Workshop (MPW)’s Photojournalism and Documentary
Photography Programme (PDP). The exhibit was launched in Musina on
4 November 2006.

Through the medium of photography, the project aims to depict
the socio-economic living and working conditions of informal cross
border traders in Southern Africa, to highlight their plight in
terms of their human rights and HIV vulnerability.

"We wanted to exhibit the photographs where everybody, local
residents as well as the traders who pass through the town, can see
them," states Wilson Johwa, the Project Coordinator of MPW’s
Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Programme.

Johwa explains, "We wanted to capture and raise public awareness
of the socio-economic living and working environment of informal
cross border traders, particularly the factors of vulnerability,
such as gender inequality, poor living and working conditions,
separation from families, exploitation and discrimination, lack of
access to health services, and so on."

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Nesbert Johwa, the Zimbabwean manager of the border bridge, Beit
Bridge, felt that he learned something new at the exhibit about the
traders he sees everyday. "The photographs highlight the plight of
the traders - it's not an easy life, it's very difficult - the
problems of accommodation, transport...."

The photographs are the work of advanced photojournalism
students of the MPW, as well as commissioned professional
photographers from Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Reiko Matsuyama, Project Officer of IOM, points out,
“Another key objective of the project was to build capacity
and increase awareness of the participating MPW advanced
photography students and other external photojournalists on issues
related to HIV, AIDS and migration. The photographers first
received preparatory sensitisation training by IOM on the issues.
Then they went out and travelled with informal cross border
traders, informally interviewing them, and getting to know what
their lives are really like. We wanted the project to be a learning
experience for the photographers, and not just about taking

"The project taught us a lot," says Lerato Maduna, one of the
MPW students selected to work on this project. "I now have great
respect for these people - they work hard, bring economic benefits
to the region, and they are very proud of what they do. This was
really a learning process for all of us students, and it’s
very personal for us now. There are many misperceptions about
informal traders, so I hope this project will at least get people

The photographs were exhibited on the streets of Musina for ten
days. On 22 November, a more comprehensive exhibit, including
photographs from other countries in the region such as Botswana,
Mozambique, and Namibia will be launched at the MPW Newtown exhibit
hall in Johannesburg. 

For more information, please contact:

Reiko Matsuyama

Project Officer, PHAMSA, IOM MRF Pretoria

E-mail: "">

Wilson Johwa

PDP Project Coordinator, MPW

E-mail: "">

The shopping arcade in Musina, where the photos were exhibited. © IOM 2006