One of the most recognisable symbols of oppression in the kasi is the infamous Casspir police truck. This vehicle carried apartheid police officers to quell the rage of the liberation struggle. Now, street artist and movie director (Kite, Jerusalema) Afrika 47 has acquired one of these relics of oppression and transformed it into art.

Ralph Ziman, as he is known outside the street art community, says he was driven by “a desire to confront our past. To reclaim the Casspir. To own it; to Africanise it.”

He could not pull this off on his own, and roped in skilled bead and wire workers to help him bring this concept to life.

“I originally met the Zimbabwean contingent on the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Bolton Road in 2013. We’ve been working together ever since. They’ve been the core of my team. I met Thenjiwe, who worked on the panels, in Rosebank at the craft market, and we used several Zulu women we met at the kwaMai Mai Market [in the Joburg CBD],” he says.

The entire Casspir is covered in beads – even the rims, which would shut any block down. They took the Casspir to Kliptown in Soweto, where it did just that.

“We had an amazing three days in Kliptown. As part of The Casspir Project, we conducted a series of interviews with local residents and talked about their memories of the Casspir in the dark days of apartheid. The overwhelming reaction was one of catharsis. There were a lot of discussions between older residents who remember the Casspir and young kids who were seeing it for the first time.”

The Casspir is fully functional and was taken to Kliptown for a photo shoot with the aim of recreating old images of the truck.

One of the 30-man camera team tells #Trending that “it’s been quite difficult to shoot the Casspir as people can’t seem to stay away from it for selfie moments, and generally just want to be around it”.

This all seems to be in line with the vision of artistically reimagining history – taking what was a carrier of death and making it joyous and colourful. The work done to the truck took just more than a year to complete, and a team of 65 threaded every bead on it and even created a few mock AK-47s.

“We believe that there are in the region of 60 million beads on the Casspir at this point,” Ziman says.

The colourful vehicle has been exhibited several times.

“It was at the Iziko music festival and at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town from December to March this year. We then displayed at the Turbine Art Fair in July, and it is now at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg. The next stop will be Miami in December for Art Basel week.”

The plan is to eventually sell it, although Ziman doesn’t seem comfortable with discussing the money that went into it.

“Like in any walk of life, money does not always buy quality or talent, and spending more does not guarantee a better product. I want people to have a visceral or emotional reaction to my work,” he says.

  • The Casspir Project is on show in Joburg at the Everard Read Gallery