Facehunter took some pretty rad pics of us in our city. By us, I mean Joburgers. Check out the rest here and here and even more at www.facehunter.org
I love taking non-Joburgers around Joburg, it always teaches me something new about this city. And the more I learn, the more it reveals itself. Some things I like and others I don't but she's like a family member this city, you know she's full it but you still love her.
Speaking of which, I'm really enjoying the inner city living. I like walking down the streets in Yeoville, discovering the streets and the general area around Ponte and actually being present and not just passing through without interest in what's going on on Nugget, Twist or the bottom of Smit Street. The architecture (see below a pic I took while driving on Noord Street) in town is worthy of more respect than the rest of the brick work below the skyline and it feels good to be part of the space on a daily basis.
I like negotiating with car guards because of how much more one relies on them around here, driving like I'm driving a gusheshe, buying fruit and veg from street vendors and the fact that there's more opportunities to negotiate when you pay for something. I like being around Hillbrow around 1.30 pm when school's out, watching little children as young as 6 years old walking home, back-packs bigger than them and uniforms soiled and tired from the day's activities, or watching the kids just hanging outside school yards hanging on to each other. I always wonder what these little people are discussing so intently and were we this affectionate when we were young? I like taking the route through the steep Melle street hill next to Rand Girls High and watching the overzealous hugging that teenage girls and boys engage in at that tender age when the novelty of hugging the opposite sex is loin quivering.
I don't know whether I'm seeing these things because it's a new environment or whether they are sensational things to see. Is it because I'm used to areas where the privileged have no use for the pristine suburban streets bar when they jog, take the garbage out or cross to get to the restaurant on other side? The sound track when I am home is the perpetual clapping and the singing of men, women and children who pray and worship in an open field next to my building, every single day especially during the day (which is worrying as its indicative of the unemployment rate). They always wear all white ensembles and when they are kneeling in a group or singing in a circle, it looks eerily beautiful. I'm still building up the courage to ask them if I could take pictures of them after service because the juxtaposition of Ponte and religious people dressed all in white is godly.
On the subjects of ubiquitous suspect smells, one's perpetual interaction with others whether by constant greeting or unintended body collisions, my people's unwavering dedication to standing ever so uncomfortably close to your person in a queue, Chibuku boxes and lone braids littering the pavements, the unsightly spotting of a drunk man peeing on the pavement facing passing traffic, the noise, taxi's paradise where taxi's unite by their rules of engagement - all characteristics of the Johannesburg inner city - let me not romanticize how unpleasant these things can be.
Most pertinently though, my awe with these new spaces is also because I am constantly surrounded by black people only. Despite being black and growing up surrounded by black people, the last time I lived in a black neighbourhood was when I was about 7 or 8 years old in Vuli Valley, Butterworth in the former Transkei. Back then Vuli Valley was a black middle class (we had those in the Transkei) neighborhood where teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses and business men and their families lived in yardy houses with double garages. The streets were our playground, an extension of our homes and there was a consistent value system that seemed to govern our daily lives. Things were cool safe for a little Apartheid that would come out every now and then in yellow trucks that looked like mobile legos to ensure our parents stuck to their curfews. We didn't know any different until we were exposed to different cultures after 1994.
As much as I look like the people that walk my current neighborhood and the surrounds, I don't walk with as much familiarity with the street culture. This is not because I'm new in the neighborhood. It's because I'm new to this kind of neighborhood. When Apartheid ended in 1994, my family moved to East London, South Africa and I have been immersed in white neighborhoods, white education systems and a largely white value system since then. My outlook, though in a constant state of flux, has generally been from a limited perspective. Only now am I beginning to debunk some issues about space and race, space and gender, the conventional economic value system and what counts as value versus the second economy where value and values are completely different. Only now am I truly thinking of the idea of claiming my physical space as a woman in an area where one always has to be street wise, what it means to be a perpetual city dweller and the complexities around sharing, something one isn't always forced to think about behind high walls in the suburbs. I used to live in Illovo, Parkhurst and Norwood and would only be in the streets when I was on my way to somewhere else because there was no pressing reason to interact with the physical street.
This is certainly not a special experience because there are millions of South Africans for whom this is commonplace. I'm still in observer mode and feel like I am yet to claim my space within this space. At first I wondered whether I will get to a point where I feel like I don't ideologically resemble the girls in these pictures. I obviously don't but the combination of my socio-economic, class, gender and cultural influences lends itself to observation and scrutiny when it comes to such a different environmental change. I feel very blessed to be new and open to novel experiences.
If there's any spot around Yeoville, Highlands, Troyeville, Ponte, Bertrams and town that are worth checking out for any good reason, I'd be really appreciative of a little heads up from those in the know. Otherwise if I find anything, I'll share it here.