Join our network

December 22, 2023

REPORT: Africa-China Photo Exhibition 2023

The Africa-China Journalists Forum & Photo Exhibition took place at the Southwest Engineering Building Atrium, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg on 21 November 2023 within the annual ACRP Journalists Forum. The Photo Exhibition brought a collection of winning images from across Africa that best encapsulate applicants’ interpretation of “Africa–China” relations from a ground level, people-to people engagement perspective. First, Second and Third place winners to the Photo Exhibition submissions were also announced.

The Photo Exhibition featured 16 images taken by 10 photographers; with special thanks to the esteemed judging panel of Leon Sadiki, Justin Hui, Dr Sali Oumarou and Bongiwe Mchunu for their committed support in the selection and awarding of the winning photo submissions. The reflections and views from the judging panel are presented below in this report.

The Photo Exhibition followed a call for submissions opened by the Project in January 2023 for images that best encapsulate "Africa-China", i.e. emphasising on-the-ground African impact and perspectives to illustrate how the lives of the people of Africa are changing amid the comprehensive phenomenon of Africa-China interactions.

The winning photographers of the ACRP Africa-China Photo Exhibition 2023 are:

  • 1st Prize: Sandile Ndlovu, South Africa
  • 2nd Prize: Ihsaan Haffejee, South Africa
  • 3rd Prize: Sani Mohammed Maitkatanga, Nigeria

Congratulations to the Top 3 Winning Photographers!

From right to left:
Bongiwe Tutu (ACRP Project Coordinator), Justin Hui (ACRP Photo Exhibition Judge 2018, 2023), Bongiwe Mchunu (ACRP Photo Exhibition Judge 2023), Sandile Ndlovu (1st Prize Winner, ACRP Photo Exhibition 2023), Ihsaan Haffejee (2nd Prize Winner, ACRP Photo Exhibition 2023), Dr Sali Oumarou (ACRP Photo Exhibition Judge 2023)
Photo by: Thomas Lethoba

Within the Top 16 images, the below listed (in no particular order) seven photographers were recognised, and their images were selected by the judges for inclusion to the Photo Exhibition:

  • Otiato Opali, Kenya
  • Adebote Promise Mayowa, Nigeria
  • Justin Lee Haruyama, Zambia
  • Thuku Kariuki, Kenya
  • Fungai Machirori, Zimbabwe
  • Benedict Bernard Chiguvare, Nigeria
  • Denish Ochieng, Kenya

The exhibition was displayed in the Atrium of the Southwest Engineering Building on the Wits East Campus, Braamfontein, Johannesburg. The images in the Africa-China Photo Exhibition 2023 appear below, starting with the Top 3 winning images

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and KwaZulu Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala welcome guests from China during Reed Dance (Umkhosi Womhlanga) at Enyokeni Royal Palace in KwaNongoma, Northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. In a bid to go beyond trade, policy and political ties - Chinese representatives attend one of the biggest cultural events in Southern Africa. A signal to a commitment to mutual respect and friendship. Both countries showcased treasured cultural practices at the event. Zulus and Chinese traditional items were displayed by merchants for sale to the people who attended the event.
Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU, South Africa
A Zulu maiden carries a reed and a Chinese oil-paper umbrella - to cover herself from the scorching heat. A testament to the embrace of Chinese culture and a highlight of the importance of fostering relations between the two cultures. The maidens are on their way to handover the reeds to the King during the Reed Dance (Umkhosi Womhlanga) at Enyokeni Royal Palace in KwaNongoma. The presence of Maidens have to pass a virginity test to qualify to carry a reed. The event marked the exchange of cultures between the Zulu nation and Chinese counterparts.
Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU, South Africa
In a first of it's kind, a Chinese group performs an ancient dragon dance at the annual Reed Dance at Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, South Africa. Spectators are treated to the ancient dragon dance - which stands for good fortune and power. A kind gesture to the Zulu people, one that invokes curiosity and interest in Chinese history and culture but also displays well wishes from the Chinese. The dragon dance takes place during the reed dance, known as Umkhosi Womhlanga‚ is an ancient Zulu tradition attended by virgins only. The event, hosted by the Zulu royal family‚ in partnership with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, is aimed at teaching young women about the dangers of social ills. Furthermore, it is aimed at encouraging the girls to keep their virginity and to be proud of who they are.
Photo: SANDILE NDLOVU, South Africa
A young South African performer interacts with two Chinese women from a traditional Chinese dance group backstage at the Chinese New Year celebrations in Johannesburg.
Photo: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE, South Africa
January 28, 2017. The Amitofo Care centre for orphan kids perform perform martial arts demonstrations during the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Photo: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE, South Africa
Mr. Mike Zhang during his turning process as WAKILIN 'YAN CHINA A KANO by former Emir of Kano His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II.
Mr. Mike Zhang on a decorated horse riding for a mini durbar during his turbaning ceremony as WAKILIN 'YAN CHINA A KANO (Representative of China business community in Kano) a title given to him by former Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II.
CR&BC workers do a section of a six kilometer bridge crossing Tsavo National Game Reserve in Taita Taveta county, Kenya. The high bridge has been built by Chinese company constructing SGR to enable wild animals, especially elephants to move freely from grazing lands to watering pans. The old railway line was on the ground making train accidents rampant at this very location, but this one considered and constructed an 'animal corridor' to save the wildlife.
Students from an orphanage in Kenya don stickers of the Chinese flag on their faces as they read out a poem to visiting Chinese businessmen. Chinese businesses in African countries, through their respective embassies, have made it their mission to work with local people and identify areas of collaboration in the spirit of shared prosperity.
Photo: OTIATO OPALI, Kenya
The Project constructed by China Civil and Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) is financed by the China‘s EXIM bank.
A Zambian mining crew prepare to descend underground, overseen by their Chinese shift boss. Relations between Chinese and Zambian staffs at this mine have been tense in the past, with episodic outbreaks of violence that have resulted in mass shootings and underground murder. Sinazongwe District, Southern Province, Zambia.
Other friendships form between Chinese staff and Zambians not directly under their supervision. Here, a Zambian lorry (truck) driver employed to haul coal away from the mine strikes a humorous pose with one of the Chinese shift bosses, reminiscent of the heroes of the action movies they both enjoy watching together. Sinazongwe District, Southern Province, Zambia.
Passengers board the train at the Mombasa Train Terminus.
A train arrives at the Chinese Built SGR train Station in Nairobi Kenya.
Lunch Break - Harare, Zimbabwe
Two women on their winter lunch break walk under the imposing architecture of Longcheng Plaza. Longcheng is one of Harare's popular malls and features a range of shops, restaurants and businesses. It is controversially built on a wetland. Wetlands are pivotal for maintaining the natural ecosystem.
The Chinese Cultural Counselor at the Embassy of China in Nigeria, Li Xuda shows Alhaji Nura Sani Kangiwa, the Director General of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, to some Chinese meals at the Gastronomy festival in Nigeria.
Photo: BENEDICT UKWU, Nigeria


The Wits Africa-China Reporting Project would like to give a special thanks to the judging panel of the ACRP Photo Exhibition 2023. The judges reviewed 23 photographers' submissions who had each providing two to three images. The judging panel included Dr Sali Oumarou, Justin Hui, and Bongiwe Mchunu, with further support from Leon Sadiki on the judging criteria of the selection process. Below are reflections from the judging panel on their experiences and the important role of images in shaping representations and perceptions in media and society.

We live in a visual age - Dr Sali Bouba Oumarou

We live in a visual age, claims Professor Roland Bleiker in his introduction to the edited volume entitled, Visual Global Politics. Such a statement makes perfect sense, considering the countless still and moving images that circulate globally every day, especially through digital social platforms. Ordinary citizens, celebrities and official actors, each at their own level and with their own means, become visual narrators of both ordinary life and more complex social relations that transcend borders.

Those images are often created with the intention of informing, commemorating events, or influencing people. They hold the remarkable ability to depict human civilisation and how we perceive it in both joyous and challenging times, and beyond. On 12th July 2022, a stunning image unveiled part of the universe's depths, granting the opportunity to witness the first galaxies formed just after the Big Bang. This image allowed us a glimpse into the past. It also made us witnesses of the present, specifically the aesthetic and ethical choices used to circulate this image… Roland Bleiker's characterisation of our era as visual was accurate.

Paradoxically, however, the significance and influence of images are not always adequately comprehended or assessed. Although images are ubiquitous in our daily lives, visual illiteracy seems to be standard, mainly due to our education systems not taking images seriously.

The image speaks for itself: The role of images in acquiring knowledge is crucial during the early stages of formal education. Classrooms and textbooks are replete with illustrations to facilitate rapid assimilation of lessons. However, at higher education institutions, such as secondary schools and universities, the use of images diminishes. With rare exceptions, such as geographers, university exams based on visual objects are uncommon. The author of this text did not have the chance to learn about visual culture in school.

Our education system has shifted away from the "age of images," leaving us in a state of visual illiteracy.

Thus, we struggle to comprehend the true power of images and often reduce our interpretation to surface-level emotions. This narrow perception of the power of images leaves us at the mercy of their darker side. How frequently have we been misled by counterfeit pictures and advertising banners that target our emotions? With the rapid progress of artificial intelligence that is capable of producing various images using minor scripts, how many individuals will be affected? Images are not solely about evoking emotions; they are much more than that. Hence, we have a responsibility and a necessity to take them seriously.

I believe this exhibition contributes to that effort, providing a rare and distinct occasion to perceive the relationship between China and African countries in a new perspective.

This viewpoint showcases not only the reflections but also the emotions of the authors of these images and the many individuals who view them. It encourages us to enhance the stories of the interactions among different parties with images that reflect a range of perspectives, locations, and moments. Certain photos in this volume bring us nearer to one aspect of reality, simultaneously shrouding another, acknowledging that each framing represents a selection and a decision. The photographers behind these images have demonstrated a firm grasp of the fact that pictures can serve as powerful tools for communication, capable of conveying intricate concepts in a unique manner that is comprehensible to individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. The photograph of this colossal bridge, designed to allow for the safe passage of humans whilst simultaneously safeguarding wildlife, exemplifies this phenomenon, preserving the eternity of the ephemeral in its authenticity.

Dr Sali Bouba Oumarou is a scientific journalist, independent researcher, and writer from Morocco in North Africa. Dr Oumarou recently authored Online Visual Framing of Conflict Mediation in Africa through the South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research.

The rate of consumption and creation of images - Justin Hui

There are some all too familiar tropes and visual cues that are used to represent Africa-China relations today. Just a quick image search online of the words “China Africa” results in the typical suspects: African and Chinese politicians shaking hands behind a backdrop of flags, portraits of Africans and Chinese workers doing business together, and people donning Chinese or local costumes in some kind of “cultural exchange”. For the Western media, it’s the ubiquitous use of red in images, from banners to Chinese flags, that signal a rising “threat”. For the Chinese media, pictures of a highway under construction promise new opportunities under the guise of mutual benefit.

Fueled by social media and algorithms, images and all of its various forms have become the dominant form of communication.

The exponential rate in which we consume and create images is creating a language we have yet to fully comprehend and understand how they shape our perception of the world around us.

The risk is that complex topics surrounding China Africa relations are easily reduced to clichés despite the depth of the reporting or research, hijacked by algorithms with ulterior political motives.

When I went to Dar es Salaam back in 2015 to document Chinese-led construction of infrastructure and building projects, my assumptions quickly shattered. I struggled to find a way to visualize my topic as I questioned the very definitions that made a project “Chinese”. How does one separate a “Chinese” project from any other project that was being built across the continent? As was the case with many of the projects I visited, a project that was built by a Chinese contractor had mostly locals working for them, funding coming from a mix of Chinese loans and local funds, was designed by a European or local architect, and had building materials imported from the region and elsewhere. Despite certain Chinese-led flagship projects where construction, funding, and design were more comprehensive, there were many Chinese who participated solely as a contractor on projects of varying scope.

What we see is a highly globalized environment in which Chinese and other foreign contractors are deeply saturated in the construction market. Simplistic notions of what is “Chinese” as often branded in the media cannot easily account for the global nature and complexity of construction today.

If not for its formal qualities or aesthetics, what then makes a project “Chinese”? Is it the speed or scale of the project that sets it apart? Is it the availability of capital otherwise not possible with Western or local funding? How does one even begin to visualize these relationships? Setting aside preconceived premises, I began photographing whatever I saw: landscapes eroded by new construction, the communities that were directly and indirectly affected, building materials imported from different places, workers on site and the lifestyles they led, the markets and people that surrounded the construction site, and so on. Little in these images would register to the viewer as directly “Chinese” or “African”, but portray the events and activities shaped by such relations that are driving much of Africa’s urbanization today. I found these images to evoke nuances and insights otherwise overlooked by skin-deep cliches and stereotypes all too represented in the media.

To me, all of these complexities and nuances are very much part of the China-Africa discourse, even if they do not appear to the viewer as such. At a time when China Africa relations have become ever more polarized and images are formed in the service of political convenience, there is a greater need for nuance in our visual representation that will enlarge our understanding of China Africa relations today.

Justin Hui is a New York based based photographer and documenter of the rapid urbanisation across the African continent.  Hui Authored: New Territories: Justin Hui in Asia One Books, 宏亞出版 (Hong Kong), 2022

Images bring color and context to a story - Bongiwe Mchunu

When reflecting on the importance of images and representation: history states photojournalism started with an illustration in a newspaper in 1806 but the actual photograph was published in 1848. Before then, newspapers were just copy after copy which we refer to as 'grey pages' in the media. Images break this greyness and bring colour and more context into the story. Some readers would even say 'I got the whole story by just looking at the picture'. Images represent life and narrate a story without words.

On the role and impact of images, we see how the media, be it positively or negatively, portrayal of events is very crucial in society as this is how opinions are formed and shaped. Pictures that came from world events are evident to this, for example; dying 14-year-old Hector Peterson image from 1976 Soweto uprising by the late photojournalist Sam Nzima. Such was the impact of this image it had shaped South African politics in a global stage.

Within the Africa-China relations, when deliberating, it was crucial to us as judges that these images without even words they told a colourful and convincing story that left no doubt of the type of relations between the two. One of the fundamental rules of photography is to learn the skill of image interpretation. In this competition especially it was vital. Some images were lost in interpretation and had to be eliminated.

Looking through the viewfinder and taking that shot means the image had already formed in the mind. No matter how volatile the situation one finds themselves, be as precise, as to avoid mis-interpretation of the story you telling through your lens. More importantly photographer and journalist should always be in sync as you go out on the field.

There is no doubt that advancements in technology have made things much easier, one example is how efficient it has become for members of the media when on the ground to file their material and send to the editors in the office. Also going back to the above issue of impact of images in society and the media. Having a good cellphone and active social media has become the norm but unfortunately hasn't come with responsibility. Members of the public with high-end cellphones have re-shaped dissemination of information. For example, recent circulation of a miner unaliving and consuming parts of his victims' organs while also taking selfies with the deceased. Members of the public recorded and distributed this tragedy on social media platforms as it unfolded. In the era before this advancement in technology, these gory images wouldn't have seen the light of day in the mainstream media.

A message from me as a judge: 'It truly has been a great honour for me to be judging such a prestigious competition. The opportunity to debate, discuss and share ideas with my colleagues Sali and Justin was phenomenal.

Some of the images represented the authors' deep passion for the subject thus proudly reminding me of why we do what we do. Our hours in discussions and pouring over the images again reminded me how a camera in hand coupled with a determined photographer can shape world events'

Bongiwe Mchunu is an award winning South Africa photographer with over two decades of experience in media and photography. Mchunu is the Picture Editor at Sunday World Newspaper, Director and Founder of Sandlwana Media.

Photography is not looking, it is feeling - Leon Sadiki

Photography is a tool for social commentary and at the same time an instrument for recording history, good and bad. The craft is one with the unimaginable power to transmit what is in the photographer's mind into an idea that breaks stereotypes, educates the disadvantaged, redirects the course of history, and or at worst influences governments to go to war. With one shutter through the viewfinder, it can connect people from diverse backgrounds and bring about peace in places where there is conflict. This is better explained by CBS Network host Anthony Mason when describing renowned war photographer Don MacCallum, during an interview, he said: "Photography is not looking, it is a feeling".

Just like on the morning of 16 June 1976, young people from Soweto high schools took to the streets in rejection of the Afrikaans language being made a compulsory medium of instruction in schools by the apartheid regime. It was an attempt to force native South Africans to learn in a language they did not understand.

A young photographer Sam Nzima, working at The World newspaper at the time, through the lens captured the lifeless body of Hector Peterson in the hands of Mbuyisa Makhubu, a picture that set South Africa into flames and became a headache for the government of the time. Peterson (12) was shot by the heavily armed apartheid police during what was meant to be a peaceful protest against institutionalised racial segregation that was set to disadvantage the blacks in South Africa by the apartheid regime.

Nzima's ability to consider all photographic elements even under volatile situations, assisted him in capturing the iconic picture in South Africa's painful history which became the symbol of all resistance against apartheid until the system was brought to its knees in 1994. The photograph to this day remains a blueprint of a picture that is loaded with deep feelings, emotions, and visual strength in a single frame. At the centre of this consideration lies a feeling to tell a story that evokes emotions and educates with a view to change the course of history.

The "June 16" picture, as Nzima’s piece of work is affectionately known, laid the foundation on what was to follow - the most important shifts in South Africa’s political and social way of life was anchored by headlines and front-page covers. From his moment of brilliance in 1976, everything came to its tail with pictures of snaking queues of people casting their vote in 1994, particularly black people who were voting for the first time to usher in the first democratic government of the country. The world was watching, the most important picture of a smiling Nelson Mandela casting his vote became a worldwide symbol of transitioning from a painful past of a racist and autocratic government to a democratic state. The photograph gave hope to many and assured the international community of a nation that was willing to build a just and inclusive society. The media became the mirror of change through many photographs and news articles.

From the country’s troubled past that started with white colonisation to the emergence of strong Afrikaner nationalism and the rise of apartheid and ultimately the birth of democracy, the media was not spared from the effects of this evolution. For most of the time before the democratic breakthrough, black media professionals including photographers were operating under duress, with a gun to their head literally and figuratively. Another legend of the camera, Ernest Cole, in the 1950s started using the medium of photography to expose the horrors of apartheid. In his book, House of Bondage, Cole gives an experience of black people under apartheid in the then segregated South Africa. He, like many, left South Africa for exile and never returned.

Many reporters and photographers were thrown in prison without trial after the 1976 uprising. Some like Nzima went underground with fear of being tortured and arrested by the police and their cameras and other tools of trade confiscated. Consequently, this created a deficit of stories about the brutal apartheid regime told from the victim’s perspective. The need African stories, particularly by Africans, took a massive knock during this period.

The role played by photographers through their pictures in the construction of the South African story and future was somewhat diminished. However, post 1994 a new breed of photographers rose from the ashes and worked in a much better environment that the likes of Nzima never had and now protected by the human rights enshrined in the country’s world-acclaimed constitution.

The rebuilding process was in full swing, and it culminated in the visualisation of several notable events, positive and negative. In 2012, clad in a green blanket, Mgcineni Noki was amongst the 34 miners killed by police in a hail of bullets in Marikana during a strike for decent pay. Like Hector Perterson, Noki's photograph with his fist pointing, gives a timeline. It tells a story of frustration and pain post-1994. Yet again, it is the photographs that remind us how the world has changed yet remains the same. As the adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Beyond resistance photography, those behind the lens have had an impact and influenced the social and political landscape through their work in South Africa and all over the world. Jurgen Schadeberg, the late legendary photographer and a mentor to Ernest Cole, explained the impact and influence photographs have as he echoed the words and said, "photography in many ways is the first drafter of history".

The Africa-China relations competition has opened up a new narrative, from Africa's perspective told by Africans themselves. China's support and commitment to strengthening security, political, cultural, and people-to-people cooperation in Africa was emphasised by the Chinese government representatives at the 2023 BRICS summit in Sandton. With entries from across the continent that tell a story of empowerment and development. And with this, using photography to build an understanding about people-to-people relations through storytelling was given new meaning. Despite others critiquing the relations in other parts of Africa.

Leon Sadiki is an independent photojournalist and a photography trainer, currently working with the Wits Centre for Journalism as a Mentor in Photography to its postgraduate journalism students. He has a decorated history of working in different newsrooms as a photojournalist and picture editor.

GALLERY: ACRP Africa-China Photo Exhibition, 2023

Previous ACRP Journalists Forums & Photo Exhibition:

© 2024 Africa-China Reporting Project. All rights reserved. 
Terms & Conditions. 
Privacy Policy.