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Friendzone: Lerato Motshwarakgole

One of my favorite pieces of journalism was written by Tom Junod in 2016. It's called The Falling Man. It's a feature piece about a picture, taken on 9/11 of a man jumping out of the Twin Towers in New York and the subsequent search to find out who he was. I love it because it is a beautiful piece of journalism, the kind I  still aspire towards, where you write a really good story about a really small detail that people might have missed while focussing on the bigger picture.

Anyway, there is a part in there about photographs that always stays with me. It goes: "Photographs lie. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs". And it basically alludes to how we can all read so much into photographs, meanings that often have nothing to do with the moment.

I was thinking about this recently when Facebook brought back a "memory" from 2012, I think. In the picture, above, taken by our mutual friend Lebogang Nkoane, in Cape Town ( I think we were at Neighborhood on Long Street). I am staring away from the camera, while Lerato, black label beer in hand, is smiling at the camera. There are people in the background and so on. If this had been in time of instagram, we'd probably be posting it followed by 10 000 hashtags about how much fun we're having #goals #besties etc. But the truth is that we were actually posing and I may have asked for the picture and Lerato posed with his beer. But the meaning can be whatever we choose it to be.

Different picture. Taken a few years ago. We're both living in Joburg and I had been coming from work or home (I can't remember) to come meet Lebogang (whose hand is making a high 5 in the picture) and Lerato for lunch ( I think). We happened to be wearing the same outfit and done our hair in almost the same way.

I love these pictures so much because I always attach new meaning to them. But also because they are the only two we have together. Even though we have known each other so long, we hardly took pictures together. Because she is private and I have having my picture taken, this might be the one important thing that led to us being close friends. We always knew the same people, always moved in the same circles, kept in touch over social media and then we both found ourselves in Joburg where Lerato was kind enough to let me live with her at a time when I was really struggling financially.

A really talented actress and now Havard student from Botswana, Lerato is hard to describe without using that other cliche about dynamites. But she really is dynamic, sweet, focussed on where is going and exactly why she is in Cape Town. Very few young people reach a level of fame, where random strangers want to take pictures with you at the theatre and not let it go to their head. And fewer are able to move on from the Joburg bright city life, retreat into a new life in academia without batting an eyelid, but she did.

I miss her terribly. How nonjudgmental she was about the fact that I didn't have my life together nor the fact that my cooking skills went no further than the odd mince and pasta every once in a while. I also miss living with someone who you can just live in silence with until there is an actual reason to talk. Personal space is so important and not many people who live together value it, but she did. 

But I like that she is fun too. She entertained my random ideas and accompanied me to some of the dingiest spots in both CT and Joburg, all in the name of fun. But also engaged got serious when I needed a wake-up call.

Now that she is living in Trump-land, I look forward to the long email on how she is listening to lectures / talks from our favs like Zadie Smith or Rihanna, what it's like being an immigrant in the US (having been one in SA too) and the difference. I cannot wait for the next time we meet again.


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First published on

Neo Maditla is Editor in Chief of Design Indaba online, South Africa's leading design and creativity platform. features some of the best talent on the African continent and from around the globe. Not only is Neo passionate about African art, but she's also a seasoned writer with experience in print, TV and online. We just had to have her on the Rise Art Prize panel for Africa and the Middle East.

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