A Drain on Our Dignity

Masixole Feni is this year’s winner of the Ernest Cole Award for his project Drain on Our Dignity.

As a photojournalist, Feni spends a lot of time photographing service delivery strikes and protest in the townships. Often the images that make it into the newspapers are only of the looting and burnings. Renting a backyard room in an informal settlement, Feni was troubled by this kind of portrayal of the lack of service delivery and the life of the marginalised. 

As he says, “I live at the back of an RDP house in Mfuleni on the Cape Flats. I experience issues like poor sanitation, access to clean water and the flooding first hand”. Photographing the lack of sanitation was not pleasant for him, but he did not want a photographer from outside the community telling their stories while he watched on. “That too would be a Drain on Our Dignity and that’s what inspired this project”. 

Drain on Our Dignity echoes the ground-breaking images produced by Ernest Cole in the early 1960s, showing black life under apartheid. It is a sensitive and honest look at what lack of services is, what it does to a community and what it does to a people. 

Without the screaming, fighting or burning – these captivating images compel the reader to look at what is happening in the Cape Town townships.

About the Author 

Masixole Feni is a freelance photojournalist. He has worked for various news media such as Paris Courier, Big Issue magazine and Independent Newspapers in Cape Town. He shoots projects of relevant social issues in the townships and has over time built an impressive body of work. Feni started his career as a photographer in his early teens when he joined Jenny Altschuler’s Drumming Photography Workshop at the Iziko SA Museum in 1999. Between 2011–2012 he was formally accepted on the South African Centre for Photography’s mentorship programme. He soon began working for newspapers and NGOs, winning a number of awards along the way. 

About the Ernest Cole Award 

The Ernest Cole Photographic Award 

The Ernest Cole Photographic Award was initiated under the auspices of the University of Cape Town Libraries, and offers a unique opportunity for photographers to complete an existing project. The award, named after documentary photographer Ernest Cole, has been made possible by the generous support of the Peter Brown, Gavin Relly Educational and Kirsh Family Trust, ORMS, Kier Schuringa, and the John Liebenberg Hip Op Fund. 

Ernest Cole was born in South Africa in 1940 and received his first camera as a gift from a clergyman. Before leaving South Africa in mid-1960s he worked as a photojournalist for Drum magazine, sharing a darkroom and friendship with the photographer Struan Roberston. On his own initiative, Cole undertook a comprehensive photographic essay in which he showed what it meant to be black under apartheid. Out of this came the book The House of Bondage, which was published in New York in 1967 and immediately banned in South Africa. He never returned to South Africa and died in exile in New York in 1990. 

Cole was a courageous documentarian who at times risked his life to share his imagery with the world. “He wasn’t just brave. He wasn’t just enterprising. He was a supremely fine photographer,” Said David Goldblatt, the renowned South African photographer. 

The Ernest Cole Photography Award has been established to stimulate in-depth photography in South Africa, with an emphasis on creative responses to South African society, human rights and justice. The award is open to anyone whose work looks at South African society, with preference being given to people living within the country. The purpose of the award is to support the realisation of a significant body of work with which the photographer has been engaged. 

The Ernest Cole Award is managed by UCT Libraries. For more information, please see

Previous winners:

978-1-4314-2164-0 A City Refracted by Graeme Williams (2015)
978-1-4314-0861-0 Legacy of the Mine by Ilan Godfrey (2013)
978-1-4314-0613-5 Life Under Democracy by Dale Yudelman (2012)

ISBN 978-1-4314-2552-5
GENRE Photography
FORMAT Paperback 
SIZE 255x237mm
RIGHTS World rights
RELEASE August 2017