My Johannesburg

my johannesburg

Seen on July 8, 2016 @ National Arts Festival, Grahamstown

My Johannesburg works as a kaleidoscope, there is no master narrative, but multiple voices of people working towards beauty and hope in the diversity of Johannesburg. An evocative collection of street images, tones, colours and textures that often tell more than formal things.

Former judge, writer and human rights activist Albie Sachs co-edited with friend and philosopher, dramaturg, artist and author Margit Niederhuber have listened to the stories of many interesting people and brought some of those together in My Johannesburg. People of all walks of life share their stories.

Listening in to some of those stories of the My Johannesburg book talk was quite rewarding. Albie Sachs mentioned that Apartheid only created one good thing: anti-Apartheid and this anti-racist movement was for many people their first political action. His family being chased away in Lithuania because of the progroms and the confrontation with racism in his newfound country made him resolute to play his part in the struggle. Sachs and Niederhuber met in Maputo, in its first years of independance where post-coloninal countries were colonized by a foreign tiger or exploited by roaring lions. One of the stories in the book speaks about Sachs feeling elated when going to work at the court at Constitution Hill, joking that South Africa is the only country in the world that had both Mahathma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela in the same jail. That very jail that had now become the court of the new democracy, talking about turning swords into ploughs. The beautiful building that feels South African, wonderful, represents the whole country (given the art commisioned to different artists). It is African because it is humane, lots of timber, a sense of community and designed like a tree, under which the most transparent way of justice had been practiced for ages (although patriarchal, open to participation). The design of the place creates a sense of being in an African setting without using obvious symbolism, but more authentic quality because of the people that made it.

Niederhuber, hailing from Austria,  recounts how Vienna was a safe haven for South African exiles, who took their learning back to SA.

To celebrate these stories Austrian composer Christian Radovan (trombone, concept) composed music to accompany these stories during a performance later that day. Joined by Justin Bellairs (alto sax), Lukas Ligeti (drums), Nduduzo Makhathini (piano) and Benjamin Jephta (bass) Radovan leads us with jazzy prelude into the story of Constitution Hill to the big city jazz vibes with Benjamin Jephta’s thoughtful bass lines and the groove of the street. Vuyelwa Maluleke (narration) further introduces us to Jeffrey Mulaudzi the founder of Alexandra Bicycle Tours, exploring the large township and seeing it with different eyes, thrilled by the warmth and the many greetings between the 1 million people living on 8km². With some smooth jazz we pedal to Marcus Neustetter who is working on public spaces and making JHB a place where you want to work and live.

Curley, straight and smooth sounds take us into the world of Dahlia Maubane who documents woman who do hair. With a sweet ballad we dance in the arms of Ali Khangela Hlongwane, the first curator of the Hector Victor museu that revolts against the  Bantu education system and tells a story of dislocation from the perspectives of students, parents and teachers.

Although warm and fed, Hazel Masike was emotionally homeless, brought up by his grandmother, as his mother was working as a housekeeper, born as eldest son during the uprising between changing nappies and hearing the gunshots outside is now creating places where children can go with their emotional bagage.

As we dream the sax brings us into another story, full of longing. Tireshen Govender is an architect that wants to tell the story about a place, reenvisioning what a place means to people who will use and see the space.

Some Soweto Jazz takes us further along, as we listen to the story of Lerato Phage, administrator at Cape Gate Miagi Centre of Music that started music schools with 5 teachers and no instruments and currently has 500 children enrolled with its own Soweto Youth Orchestra.

My Johannesburg. A city that accomodates for everybody. “The more people find each other the more they will create beauty.”

And that is exactly what happened at the booktalk and concert. And of course we have our own encounters in Johannesburg to tell, like that older man, another friend of Sachs, who added his story of the King Kong musical in the fifties in Sophiatown that produced a lot of jazz musicians at the height of Apartheid.

A generous night overwhelming with creativity, beauty and hope!

Photography: CuePix/Greg Roxburgh – National Arts Festival 2016