TERMINAL | David Southwood

Beach Boys: Tanzanian Stowaways

The following photographs are extracts from a larger project, a collaborative project between Southwood, a photographer, and Sean Christie, a writer. The project has been ongoing since 2010.

Having worked on stories about African people under duress, it quickly became apparent to the photographer and the writer that Cape Town’s Tanzanian stowaways were somewhat anomalous. These stowaways, who call themselves ‘Beach Boys’, have a certain agency that representations of Africans, particularly of migrant Africans, are too often denied. Tanzania is a poor country but it is not among the ten poorest countries in Africa, and it belongs to that rare club of African nations that has not been wracked by civil war in living memory. And yet the beach boys choose to leave the country in search of more. They choose to travel south, knowing in advance South Africa is not the land of opportunity many migrants believe it is.

Bypassing Johannesburg, the city of gold, the beach boys head for the ports, where, disinterested in working the country’s restrictive asylum policies or the largesse of its NGOs, they try again and again to stowaway on ships. Mostly they fail. They are mostly thwarted before they can board docked ships, or having successfully hidden aboard a ship are usually deported from that ships’ next port of call, back to Dar es Salaam, where they once again begin the trek South. So low is the success rate for stowing away that in the persistent efforts of long-time beach boys one begins to detect something other than a desire to escape the continent, one marks an addiction to adventure, to constant movement, to an ecology that has now become established all up and down the southern African coastline.