Why coffee is the key to urban renewal

#158. Go for a city walk. With the John Moffat Building at Wits University celebrating 50 years of being, today was declared a “Grand Day of [architectural] Celebrations”. So we joined the small crowd at the University for an urban walking tour taking in 40 of Joburg’s best historic buildings.
The route started at Brickfields, the social housing development that has transformed Newtown, bringing in high-volume residential accommodation that can sustain all the amenities that make city life worth living – coffee shops, a book shop, art galleries and restaurants. From there we crossed to the Market Theatre (once the Indian fruit market but that was in the the 1930s) to stand in Mary Fitzgerald Square and take in the view of Museum Africa on one side and one of the city’s hostel compounds for its mineworkers (now the Worker’s Museum) that was built in the late 1800s. Then this place was a crazy tented camp town that probably (to my mind anyway) looked and felt a lot like Deadwood Continue reading

Africa's sad museum

#115. Wonder what happened to Museum Africa. Having missed the launch last week of l’Afrique: A tribute to Maria Stein Lessing and Leipold Spiegel – pioneering collectors of African art and artefacts who recognised and celebrated the profound influence that these had on 20th Century European artists like Picasso, Gaugin and Matisse – I took a trip to Newtown yesterday. Continue reading

So is it a Triomf?

#8. Watch Triomf. Michael Raeburn’s filmic evocation of Marlene van Niekerk’s award-winning book Triomf – which premiered* last week – has left me feeling disturbed. Reason one is that it still hurts to drive past that bland suburb called Triomf and recall it was built on the ashes of Joburg’s true historical Bohemia, Sophiatown. Number two is that the book is set at the time of apartheid’s fall (the early 1990s) and is peopled by a poor white incestuous and alcohol-pickled family, ironically the poster children for apartheid racial purity and it’s consequences. These are not people I can find sympathy for. And yet they are depicted as being victims to each other, battered by the very thing that should support and nurture them – family – but instead eats them up alive. In some ways it’s like watching a car accident. Continue reading