I first met Thabiso in 2007 at the Market Photo Workshop where he trained as a photographer.
Our relationship, both as professionals and as friends, grew over the past seven years as we both experienced the ups and downs of emerging as photographers and as individuals.
Thabiso and I, along with other colleagues, used to engage in dialogues about our influences: photography, writings, music and films. Embedded in our exchanges was a strong sense of affirmation and courage about the goals we had set-out to achieve.
The majority of these goals Thabiso has managed to accomplish within the space of his seven years as a professional photographer. His breakthrough year in achieving the majority of the goals he had set himself was 2014.
Thabiso always spoke and encouraged the idea of travelling and exploring territories outside the confines of the townships.
During my last presentation at the Goethe Institute Master Class in Lagos, which we were both participating in, he told me, with a touch of mockery: “Musa you need to get out and explore other places now, you have been photographing in Jozi for a long time now, you need to get out”.
To me, this was a form of a constant brother-to-brother encouragement we’ve had since the beginning of our relationship.
I once visited a room he was renting in Troyeville. It had no windows, the lack of light rendering a sense of timelessness that meant he often woke up late.
Unhappy with the manner in which he was living, I asked him why he wasn’t staying at home on the East Rand. He responded by saying something along the lines of: “Musa, don’t forget that the townships were not built with good intentions, you need to get out of the township, man.”
After he left the Market Photo Workshop as a student, Thabiso was in and out of the country, travelling to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Germany. During these excursions, he lived-up to his affirmation and fulfilled his desires of seeing the world, of always being “on the run”.
As a friend and a colleague, I was too caught up in my own escapism and I missed an opportunity to ask him, why exactly he was “getting out of the township” and what exactly was bothering him in the township.
Thabiso’s recent show at the Goodman Gallery in May 2014 was appropriately titled Running.
It was his first solo show, a photographic exhibition bringing together three series: Running Amman, Running Bulawayo and Paradise. Although shot in highly disparate places – the cities of Amman, Bulawayo and Berlin – all three series were viewed by Thabiso as part of a similar trajectory of movement, displacement, transition; each photograph displaying a veneer of calm, that may or may not be on the verge of catastrophe.
We are often blinded by the technicalities of our profession, the desire for recognition for our creations and the time we have invested in developing our skills. When the opportunity came for us to talk about this show, I asked him about the turnout, the audience at his show, and praised him for achieving one of his goals, which was to work with the Goodman Gallery.
But I left out the most basic questions: I never asked him about the wellbeing of his family, love life, his spiritual wellbeing and whether or not he had been resting well.
I never asked Thabiso about what it is that he has been running away from or where he is running to – the core ideas that were perhaps embedded in his show at the Goodman Gallery.
I will never get another chance whilst on this Earth to ask Thabiso these questions.
* In August 2014 Thabiso Sekgala together with Musa Nxumalo and Mimi Cherono Ng’ok opened their show called Peregrinate – field notes on time travel at the FNB Joburg Art Fair. This was the outcome of a Masterclass with the Goethe Institut.
* A memorial service will be held for Thabiso Sekgala at the Market Photo Workshop, Johannesburg, on October 23 at 1pm.
Main Photograph: by Kalpesh Lathigra
All other photographs: by Thabiso Sekgala (Untitled, from the series, Homelands)