‘Mielies, Mielies ,R2, Mielies’shouts the mielies seller on the corner of Pim Street.
People move across the city, heading for the Bree St Taxi Rank
Saturday Afternoon in Johannesburg is a day for pedestrail negotiations. Pedestrians walk at a pace slightly below ‘speed walking ‘. Added with the grace of an acrobat you are required to shift between the hawkers and the bible clutching Predestinators-both with goods that are running out of their sell-by date.
Most of the crowds are shoppers. School-kids from classes, young lovers from the movies and of course soccer fans covered in the paraphernalia of allegiance. This new soccer tribe-some say is a hangover from our ‘Mass democratic movement.’If anything Masses are imprinted in our psyche.
From toyi toyi strikers, protesting school kids to road-running masses. We in the city have got used to these various ‘mass movements’.
Today’s’new mass movements are drug dealers, designer labels and the forthcoming Solidarity tourists.
Bree Street has always had a strange attachment to my arrival as a young artist in the city. In the 80s it was a nervous walk, Pass Laws and curfews ensured an inhospitable stroll up Bree Street. It was the street that I first got mugged after which I chased the mugger, more out of the inconvenience of replacing my student card than civil duty. Mugging in those days was safe, just knives as opposed to 2nd hand weapons from a lost civil war somewhere in Africa.
As a student I had to catch my bus on Bree Street while my fellow white students could stay in the city. Well that was Apartheid ,not allowing most categories of human relationship including Sex.
But that’s another story of my taxi journey.
Back to my bus ride. It is hard to imagine Joburg without Taxis or even white people. Yet it was not longer than a few years ago that the city was clean of taxis and had a few ‘raisins in milk’when it came to blacks and whites street relationships.
Taxis were introduced by the outgoing regime to encourage a middle class traveller- afraid of the impending success of the Communist party. Luckily we did get Taxis for we all would have been exterminated by the 3rd force killings on the trains. However if you consider the road safety record of Taxis then one wonders if another conspiracy is playing out.
Young hawkers at the rank, whistle under their breath – giving you a hint that they acquired their merchandise through some affirmative shopping means (illegal)
I pass under the security camera and a sign of the New Rank with a shopping mall, to get my Taxi. The Yeoville Taxi queue is long with people sharing an umbrella or seeking shade under the shadows of the billboards. Beer, hair products and Constipation medication adverts are splashed across the billboards. The need to sell Alcohol and feeding the desire for straight hair in adverts one can understand -but constipation?
Maybe we are constipated after all or pacified by the smoke of African herbs. If one listens to the numerous talk shows the popular debates are the same, ‘poverty of affluence’versus the bitterness of higher purchase -mixed with good intentions.
Yes Joburgers are a mixture of Motivational speakers, hedonistic rave-goers, priest & politician and the common garden beer-drinking worker.
We may have made contribution to contemporary world history with our Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). That absolved the trespassers and paid pittance to those trespassed. Yet the TRC did make us look like esoteric herbivores – while the carnivores got pensions.
‘We forgave without punishment’. Maybe we should have social engineering programmes for collective neuroses rather than multicultural fast food.
Our taxi arrives at last and the first 18 are counted and ushered in. Now if there is a place to be bitter and feel the injustice of our democracy it is at the back of a taxi. However there is no time to carry any animosity because we are heading home. As our taxi gets on the road someone requests a change of music our driver grudgingly changes the music from Gospel to Luther Vandross-complaining about the soap opera generation.
Now without any notice the local taxi payment ritual goes into action. People start shifting and fumbling searching for change to pay their fare.
The one thing you get in a taxi is a collective sense that you are squashed in, 4 people in 4 rows of seats + 2 people up front with the driver. Profit is the chief motivator for filling the taxi. This is a not a considerate attempt to accommodate the various sizes of African hips & bums
The front seat is reserved for the sexy young woman (of course next to the driver). The front door with the obligatory man, has the responsibility to collect & pass back the taxi fares.
The following row of seats is usually kept for mothers and babies-with anyone with parcels from Televisions to a weekend supply of beer. He rest of the passengers are smashed against the rear window. Just above the speakers. So that your bottom tingles with Kwaito music when you get out. If you have issues of personal space then don’t use a taxi, take the bus.
Once we reach Hillbrow we drop our first passengers. Which happened to be fellow Africans. We now pick up more heavyweight passengers near the tomato sellers on the pavements, past the drug dealers posing as shoemakers and a few east European sex workers. The lesson we are learning is the Joburg almost 10 years after Mandela was released -is now becoming like any other world city-with the combination of stress & excitement. A major African City.
In spite of our recent history our cultural landscape similarly shows the distortions, opportunism and innovation of any other emerging market. However to appeal for a distinction, we have the ground for a new artistic vision to grow beyond national interests, sentimentality and the co modified pain and guilt in our lives. Its duration & strength depends on its sincerity of embracing our past rather than being overwhelmed or ignoring it. An art that is about beauty. A beauty of imagination.
As artists we envisioned a more awaken world, learning from our struggle. The futility of thinking- where the past and the future are all intertwined into attachments of security. Creating illusions of Utopia. Where one is hypnotised by judgements of guilt & innocence. Forgetting to engage with life in the present.
Now ‘Speculators’build security walls instead of houses. Yet a greater want is there to be part of a culture that is ambiguous and contingent. A culture & identity that is organic, which is not fixed in a romantic meaning of memory. The attempt to move away from the Separate and Separation, insecurities of the past. Living with A-part-‘hate’ has deformed our self-images. That today serve as secure prisons of separation. It is this starkness that makes South African cultural tensions so fertile.
The lessons discovered and learnt are old, many and inspiring. Especially the ability to have the strength to look at oneself. With the desire to join both ends of our rainbow.
Short Left!! I shout and alight in Yeoville. The ride might be squeezed and local, yet it is quite fun.
///Article N° : 5509