On Tuesday night I attended an event in Joburg where a group of young creative people spoke on the theme of “I am Joburg”. It was a fun event, and a fun evening but something really bugged me about it, and it has been bugging me since. It isn’t intended as a criticism of the event at all, because in the end the organizers can do what they want with the format they design, but I guess it is a criticism of the way in which stories about Johannesburg, and its rejuvenation, are told.
The talks at the event all came from the same voice – an overarchingly male, middle-class voice (which I guess some will say is a dominant voice of most discourse). And for the most part, stories of Joburg’s rejuvenation are about the privileged slowly emerging from behind their giant suburban walls to enjoy art, music, cheese, wine and cocktails at certain spots in the city. I am not criticizing this development – I am 100 % part of that group – but I don’t think the issue of rejuvenation should be looked at so heavily through this angle. Yes, it is good that people with disposable income come into the city, have fun there, love it and come back. It brings in investment and hopefully improved conditions for everyone.
But I think we need to confront the more difficult issues too; like that of housing in the city. My best friend brought this up yesterday and it has been an area of immense interest to me for years. It is all well and good to talk about inner city rejuvenation, fixing up buildings etc – but the streets and the buildings are not empty. What happens to the people who live there? The urban rejuvenation story for these people is one of red ants, forced removals and destitution. There was a story in the news a few months back about a building in the CBD where the red ants moved in to remove the people who were living there illegally. It was an awful story, but what made it worse were the cold and callous comments from people about the residents of that building that accompanied it.
For me, this is not urban rejuvenation – it cannot be about serving the needs of one community of people over another. Yes, this is very idealistic of me. No, I don’t care. I don’t think it is good enough to say “but that is how it has always been.” If I was a trust fund baby or a lotto millionaire I would love to put my money into urban development and try to find a solution or approach to this issue.Perhaps I should start buying lotto tickets after all….
I think the first photo kind of sums up my first point about voices – this is Juta street too.