#152. Wonder whether walls make us safer? This after 24 hours in which I attended a community meeting with a security company in my area and then spent yesterday at a seminar called cracking walls at the Goethe Institute in Parkwood, Johannesburg. The Goethe is thinking a lot about cracking walls, what with the 20th anniversary of the “fall” of the Berlin Wall approaching, and now so am I.
Someone there raised an unsettling proposition – if we have a vision of the place we would like to live in then are we getting any closer to that by putting up razor wire and electric fencing, employing armed guards and spending as much money as we can fortifying our defenses. Surely we should be working towards that goal, said the CSIR’s Barbara Holtmann.
On the other hand if you feel unsafe, you are unsafe.
This is not one of those easily resolved questions but it goes to the heart of what it is to live in this place between gritty reality and the rainbow nation. Somewhere along the way we failed to build a sense of community (I was going to say we lost one but history prevented any real sense of that) and for many people living in walled suburbs going to a meeting about security is the first “community” type gesture we have encountered. Our interactions are built around that. Friends across the barricades.
We don’t wave at the neighbour anymore because it might cause the beam to send a panicked response.
When asked most people envision safer spaces as open spaces, says Holtmann. We instead put all our energy and investment into closing spaces off and “building a society of exclusion”. And ironically walls have not made us any safer. Violent crime has not reduced. Holtman asked whether the scenario would have been different if 20 years ago we used the bricks for the walls to build more houses for those who had traditionally been economically walled off by apartheid.
“If we hadn’t built the walls, would we have needed them?”
* As part of the build-up to the 20th anniversary the Goethe has organised a series of events including the
Cracking Walls Exhibition: Fall Wall
“More open, transparent and inviting – this is what the Goethe Institute could look like.” As part of Cracking Walls architecture students from the University of Johannesburg showcase alternative solutions for the outer appearance of the Goethe Institute. The exhibition runs until November 6.
and in “Borders” seven photographers from the Market Photo Workshop “explore the theme of borders, looking at the symbolic and literal walls that divide and define us. The resultant bodies of work speak of negotiated space, engaging such issues as urbanization, gender, security, the informal economy, and the prejudices and slowly eroding walls that govern the way people move and stay in South Africa.” It opens tonight at 6.30pm at GoetheonMain (Arts on Main) with a walkabout on October 10 as part of the Spring Art Tour.