Eastern Cape Cowboys

This photo essay shows the remote rural part of South Africa in the Eastern Cape Province, an area of South Africa that is off the tourist track. The story explores the simple daily life and the horse culture of the Sotho and Xhosa people, who are situated in the Eastern Cape.

Daily life in the remote rural villages has not changed much in the last thirty years. Politicians have made many promises, but large parts of the rural areas are still under-developed and hard to reach. Public schools are heavily under-resourced and student drop out rates are soaring. The majority of people live without reliable electricity, running water, or sanitation. There exist no cinemas, theatres, social clubs, youth organisations, arts clubs, or other forms of entertainment or luxury. Small taverns are the only alternative, and alcohol consumption, while is seen as a part of the culture, is excessive. With over 35 percent, the Eastern Cape Province has by far the highest provincial unemployment rate in South Africa.

Moreover, this photo essay seeks to provide a perspective on the intimate connection between humans, horses and nature. In the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, horse culture plays a significant part of society, which can be seen through the communities in regard to the animal’s high economic and social value. To the people of the Eastern Cape horses are best mode of transport to conquer the mountainous environment; they are vital to the functionality of the community. When I asked about people’s feelings when riding a horse, or what a horse means to them my photo subjects replied the following:

A horse and a human have a connection. A horse is intelligent and has its own mind. Riding a horse sometimes feels like a roller coaster. It’s rough and sometimes soft. A horse can do unexpected things.’

I like to ride it slowly so it doesn’t have to work so hard. But I also like it when the horse does unexpected things and is wild. Many people are riding horses here and I love them. I like brushing it and wiping off the sweat after I use it. I take well care of it.’

‘Riding a horse makes you feel free and on top of the world. It feels like flying.’

‘With a horse you can reach places where a car cannot go. Also the police use them sometimes.’

'Every chief of a village has to have a horse. It’s a must. The horse has to be well trained, big and strong. It has to represents the status of a chief.'

‘It is like a loyal friend. You can travel far and many times, when I have been drunk, I woke up and it has dropped me directly in front of my door.’

‘You earn respect when you have a nice horse. Your status increases and you are mainly known for your horses. A horse tells a story about you because you train it. The more you train it the more the value increases.’

‘There exist race competitions for the best horse in each village, and a nice horse can boost a person’s pride and social status. A horse race is also great to bring people from different villages together. It strengthens the community.’