This research argues that the 1976 Soweto Uprisings as well as the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the first democratic elections held in 1994 impacted significantly on the South African social documentary photographer, and turned out to be major turning points within the South African social documentary photography genre. Based on this, this study sets out to firstly clarify the term social documentary photography as a particular type of visual communication within the documentary genre on an international level by briefly conducting a literature study on the emergence and subsequent use of the term social documentary photography. Secondly the study places in context the practice of social documentary photography in South Africa prior to the 1980s by reviewing possible societal, political and international factors of impact. This is achieved through a literature study as well as through the re-examining of openended interviews with South African social documentary photographers conducted as part of the author's doctoral study. Finally, by analysing and synthesising the possible factors of influence on the South African social documentary photographer complexities inherent in the term “struggle photography” can be directly linked to political change as South Africa moved towards a democratic society.