Crossing The Line
On February 5 2005 Bingu wa Mutharika announced his resignation from the United Democratic Front and formed his own United Party. He was at the time the President of Malawi. Over 50 MPs abandoned their own parties to join Mutharika’s. This action, known as ‘crossing the line’, sent the Malawian political system into chaos. Opposition parties insist these actions are unlawful and unconstitutional. Several legal actions have been made in attempt to declare the seats of the MPs who abandoned their parties vacant but all attempts have been foiled by counter legal action from the government. Section 65, the part of the Malawian constitution that outlaws such actions, remains to be discussed in parliament. While these incidents were taking place crucial budget decisions were delayed. The Malawian population has been decimated by HIV/AIDS. According to UN sources 14% of the adult population are infected with the virus. 50% of the overall population live below the poverty line. Harder still to evaluate is the poverty of information suffered due to an inadequate infrastructure and lack of educational resources. Belief in witchcraft and the supernatural is still intrinsic to the culture with stories of ‘witches’ and ‘wizards’ being convicted reported in the national press. The two areas in these images are both in northern, lakeside Malawi. One, Usisya, is an isolated promontory of land jutting in to lake cut off at the other side by a range of mountains. Its inhabitants are mostly fisherman and subsistence farmers. The other is Nkhata Bay, a lakeside district capital with an economy based on tourism and trade. A line exists between these two communities, both physical and metaphorical. It could also be said the divide is temporal as Usisya has been likened to the Nkhata Bay of twenty years ago. The project, whilst dealing with other issues, is an attempt to illustrate what is lost and what is gained in the pursuit of economic development.
From Shave Green to Southampton Water - a 50 year journey Proud faces, though tired. Eyes of young and old that show the collective inherited pain still after fifty years since driven from their Forest home. Driven from the enclave atop Brokis Hill in Shave Wood, the place where so many of their kith and kin were birthed and died. Shave Green Compound, a mere motley collection of higgledy piggledy shacks and tents, yet which were real and vibrant homes, where real lives were lived and real loves won and lost, real troubles and real happinesses ran their course. Driven by the do-gooder Welfare State into unsuitable housing, bricks and mortar dwellings, characterless and spiritless. Driven apart from the interdependent community, from extended family and close friends. Driven to choose between confined insecurity or the open road again. Those that chose to move on were driven into the endless cycle of evictions and harassment – those who remained driven ever deeper into cultural decay and pain. Some were driven to settle by the sewage works, a stinking, disease and vermin ridden bare patch of earth, unsuitable for human habitation, yet good enough for Gypsies. But here at last, at Bury Brickfields, a glimmer of hope, scant and bare, yet hope still. Proud faces, with a newly arisen sense of self, a newly arisen political awareness, and newly arisen demand for equality, and the determination to fight to belong. Tired eyes beginning to find some peace perhaps. Len Smith author of Romany Nevi Wesh and co-founder of the Gypsy and Traveller law reform coalition.