Cape Town-120506-About 20 hard drives containing her lifes work, belonging to photographer Zanele Muholi was stolen when her flat in St James Street, Vredehoek, was burgled. She suspects thieves deliberately targeted her work, as many other valuable items were not taken. Reporter Michelle Jones. Picture Jeffrey Abrahams

Michelle Jones

AN AWARD-winning city photographer, who documents the lives of black lesbians, has lost five years of her work in a burglary at her Vredehoek flat.

Zanele Muholi, 39, hopes to get back at least a few of the more than 20 external hard drives that were among the items stolen from the flat she shares with her partner, Liesl Theron.

“It’s so painful. Five years of my life are gone,” she said.

Muholi says her work may have been targeted because little else was stolen. The hard drives contained thousands of stills and many hours of video footage captured in SA, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Uganda.

On the hard drives were the images captured at the funerals of three l esbians killed in hate crimes.

Muholi had visited Malawi days after gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were released from jail, and travelled to Uganda to see the unveiling of slain activist David Kato’s tombstone.

“I’ve dedicated my entire life to documenting queer lives. I wanted to make sure I document (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) lives. All my major projects are gone.”

The flat was burgled on April 20. Muholi was travelling at the time and Theron arrived at the flat about 11pm to find it ransacked.

“It was only after we switched on the lights that I saw a total mess and it sunk in that there is no one here,” Theron said.

The kitchen was left undisturbed, but the bedrooms and lounge had been rifled.

The television, some camera equipment, a projector, a printer and four external hard drives had not been stolen.

Muholi’s personal items had been taken from drawers and shelves and strewn around the bedroom. Theron’s possessions had not been touched, but a laptop was stolen.

Theron suspects the burglar used the laptop to check the contents of the hard drives to decide which to steal.

Police spokesman Frederick van Wyk said the investigation was continuing.

Muholi said back-up hard drives had also been stolen

. “(How) will the person know where the external hard drives are?... It cannot be a stranger who walked in (here).”

On the drives were unfinished projects and the work Muholi had planned to show in July. She said she would have to cancel the exhibition. She appealed to anyone who came across the hard drives to return them.

In 2010, then-minister of arts and culture Lulu Xingwana stormed out of an exhibition of her work.

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