Ronald & Torrance Ngilima

Ronald Ngilima was born in 1914 in the Eastern Cape and moved to Gauteng in the early 1930s, where he became initiated into photography. Employed at Dinglers Tobacco Company, he dedicated his free hours to his trade as an ambulant photographer, cycling to various parts of Benoni. The present collection only starts in the 1950’s, when he moved to a house in Wattville big enough to set up his own dark room. After his sudden death in 1960, his eldest son Torrance took over the photography trade for another five years, before he committed himself to his political involvement with the ANC. In subsequent years, Ronald’s wife Sarah Ngilima carefully kept the 25 boxes of negatives locked up in a cupboard. They re-emerged some thirty years later, in 1999, when grandson Farrell Ngilima re-discovered them by chance. Realising the historical value of the collection, Farrell played a pivotal role in the establishment of the collection as a public archive. The original negatives are presently stored at Historical Papers, an independent archive based at Wits University.

Many of Ngilima's photographs convey the racial mixity of Benoni's black location, which included many Coloured and Indian families. Though the location was divided into three sections (African Location, Cape Stands, Asiatic Bazaar), the social dynamics of the place tended to blur these artificial administrative borders. The location was then forcefully removed under high apartheid in the late 60s: Africans and Coloureds were removed to newly built racially-defined townships 10 km away. The place was made into an Indian Group Area and renamed Actonville. Wattville, the adjacent new African location, was spared from the wave of removals and Ronald Ngilima's daughter Doreen still lives there with her family in the very same house. The geographical stability of the Ngilima family partially explains why the collection has survived up till today.