Women Make Art in an Alexandra Soap Shop

by | Oct 11, 2013 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Townships/Informal Settlements | 15 comments

I went to Alexandra Township to watch a rehearsal for a play. Five women participated in the rehearsal: four actresses and the writer/director.

The rehearsal took place in a shop — selling soap, floor polish, and other household cleaners — that is about half the size of my kitchen.


Four gorgeous women, practicing their art amidst bottles and buckets of soap and floor polish. They have to pause what they’re doing when customers come in to buy things.

Alexandra, which locals call Alex, is an extraordinary place. It is Joburg’s oldest, most densely populated, most notorious township. There are 180,00 people (give or take) living in Alex, which spans about seven square kilometers (2.7 square miles). That translates to 26,000 people per square kilometer, a large portion of whom are living in tiny shacks. (Read my previous posts about Alex here, here, and here.)

Alex is burdened by poverty, crime, lack of resources, and a serious lack of space. It’s beautiful and inspiring (at least I think it is), but it’s a difficult place to make art.

The women I met yesterday aren’t deterred by these challenges. These women are using what they have — their intelligence, talent, and the few resources available — to create something beautiful.


Writer/director Nothemba Sulupha talks about her play, which is called Wombman.

I was incredibly moved by this rehearsal. I cried through most of it, especially during the singing.


Musa Happiness Mkhize.


Mapule Pinky Monyelo.


Mantala Nkoatse.


Pretty Buhle Ngcobo.

This play is going to be part of the Women’s Theatre Festival in Alex, taking place from 25-27 October. I’m not going to tell you what the play is about because I want you to go see it (and the other plays in the festival) for yourself. Learn more about the festival here.


Thank you Nothemba, Musa, Mapule, Mantala, and Pretty for showing me some things that I really needed to see. I can’t wait for your performance.


    • 2summers

      Thanks Timmee. Banana.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Christi. And by the way, congrats! I need to come see you sometime soon 🙂

  1. 76jozi

    Great Portraits Heather: the light is beautiful on their faces 🙂 ! XX

    • 2summers

      I wish you could’ve been there, Christi. You would have loved it.

  2. Mittah

    Wow that’s great can’t wait to c that , Beautiful ladies!

  3. Micheng

    Beautiful women and great photography. Are you going to take videos on their performance?

    • 2summers

      No, but I’ll probably take pictures!

  4. Kathryn McCullough

    Isn’t it wonderful to find art in unexpected places? I love it! This sounds like a lovely visit and an opportunity to meet some delightful women.

    Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Heather! May it, too, be filled with art and happiness.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • 2summers

      Thanks Kathy, you too.

  5. Sine

    will you post more details about this if you get any? Would love to “advertise” the event on my blog page… (as I feel a certain kinship for anything Alexandra:-)

  6. horsesofthesun

    Such beautiful smiles considering their environment!

  7. Rebecca

    Your photos have perfectly captured these beautiful women!



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