Shakira Mabika moved to Cape Town, South Africa, from her native Zimbabwe to escape homophobia—the country's late president, Robert Mugabe, considered gay people "worse than dogs and pigs"—only to encounter similar prejudice, compounded by xenophobia, in Cape Town's Delft township. The South African Constitution provides strong protections for transgender people like Mabika, but on the rough streets of the country's townships those words mean little. Mabika has struggled to find a job. Walking through the township, she is frequently harassed or called a "moffie"—a derogatory slur for trans women.

Mabika is one of the six subjects featured in South African photographer Lee-Ann Olwage's new series, #BlackDragMagic, which she created in collaboration with Cape Town drag artist Belinda Qaqamba Ka-Fassie. Olwage met Ka-Fassie while working on a previous series documenting the flourishing Cape Town drag scene. Together, they came up with the idea of doing a photo shoot in one of South Africa's townships, the settlements where non-whites were forced to live during apartheid.

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Olwage shot the images over the course of an afternoon in the township of Khayelitsha, choosing the locations in collaboration with her subjects. Mandisi Dolle Phika, who grew up in an extremely religious family and was once told she was possessed by a "gay demon," asked to pose in front of a church. Other locations included a tshinayama, a community space where women buy and sell meat; a trash-strewn field; and a taxi stand where the group took a portrait together. Worried about attracting negative attention, Olwage and her small crew moved quickly from location to location, finishing the entire series in about four and a half hours.

Olwage and several of her subjects will return to Khayelitsha on October 19 to exhibit the photographs and hold a symposium in partnership with the African transgender rights organization Gender DynamiX. The photographer hopes the series will help trans people find greater acceptance in their home communities. "One of the girls told me that if they didn't do projects like this it would be as if they didn't exist," Olwage says. "Storytelling is the most basic way of communicating our stories, telling who we are."

Updated 10-2-19, 1:15 pm EST: This story was updated to reflect the correct spelling of photographer Lee-Ann Olwage's name.


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