Mohlouoa T. Ramakatane (b. 1937) has been well regarded as the portraitist of Lesotho. For many decades, many people have come through his photography studio to have their portraits taken; he was even the official portraitist for the royal family. One of the most remarkable experiences of Ramakatane’s career and life was after his time photographing Sharpeville. While travelling through the town, the photographer was shot and left for dead. By the time his family came to identify him at the mortuary, Ramakatane suddenly became conscious. After an eventful career, Ramakatane has expressed his support to digitally preserve his work with this project. (Read more about Ramakatane.)
The Ramakatane archive provides a unique perspective of Lesotho’s social history and visual culture from a period spanning nearly 55 years. His photographic work is an exemplary portfolio of “vernacular photography.” The collection contains a hefty total of approximately 10,000 negatives, prints, article fragments, magazines, calendars, and some of Ramakatane’s personal papers. These materials serve as vital resources for Lesotho’s articulation of identity, sense of history, and memory.
Ramakatane’s photographic archive reflects the evolving identity of a nation. A particular aspect highlighted in the collection is Lesotho’s identity tied to South Africa. For instance, the history of Lesotho and its socio-economic operations are largely linked to South Africa. For most of the twentieth century, Lesotho workers migrated to South Africa to work in the mines. Since then, it was the main source of income for Lesotho. Today, approximately half of Lesotho’s working population work as migrant workers in South Africa.
Due to Lesotho’s unique relationship with South Africa, much of its history is often underrepresented. The Ramakatane archive emphasizes Lesotho’s history and cultural memory as distinct and separate from those of South Africa. In addition to being a resource for documenting key moments in Lesotho’s history, this collection will be helpful in several scholarly disciplines, particularly African history at large, historians of photography, and current work in vernacular photography.