Thursday, 23 May 2013 09:31

Suitably Blurred

Inner City Joburg yesterday the 22nd of May 2013. During the Mayor's Budget Speech.

Wednesday, 06 March 2013 02:34


on every posctard of our city

who owns your view?

who sees their view?

looking right, and left, and right again. who looks up?

have you got a license for that reflection?

the boy in front saw something fosho. but what?


Monday, 04 March 2013 12:47


This is where I was born at the Florence Nightingale Hospital in Hillbrow, inner city Jhb in 1961. That was the year after the Sharpeville Massacres and the year before Marilyn Monroe died. It is strange the names you always knew and remember and the names you never knew. It's also strange what you have to edit out for your TED Talk because of time and inclination. This post doesn't worry about leaving anything out although I would hate to ramble.

My mom says this was the poshest nursing home in the whole of Johannesburg. She also says when I came out of her my hair was standing straight on end and that I looked exactly like a toilet brush. Thanks mom. She already told everyone or I might have hesitated. I think my hair stood on end because I had some kind of premonition of the future. Two years later I was back in the Florence having an emergency tracheotomy with no anaesthetic because most of the specialists were in shul because it was Rosh ha Shona and they were Jewish. The surgeon told my mom and dad to expect the worst and they went home and cried under a tree in our garden in the rain.

As you know by now I did not peg, yet. That grey building is where I landed up about 18 years later, still in Hillbrow, learning drama in case there wasn't enough in my life, with a wonderful teacher by the name of Lyndsay Reardon who I love and trust though I haven't seem him in an age.


Before it was a drama school, it was painted in all psychaedelic colours and called Narnia and I am told that my dad went there once in a slight rage looking for my one sister and when he didn't find her he took all the chairs and tables out of the top floor and threw them over what is now this gated balcony. I wonder if they put up the bars to stop more fathers.

Anyway, after it was a drama school, it was well known as Club 58 where many of my friends like Joanna Weinberg and Natalie Gamsu and Soli Philander got a bit famous. Next door was a restaurant on the corner called Lucky Luke's where we all used to hangout for hours because the service was so bad they never used to move you on if you had no money. And next to that was a clothing shop where the beautiful young Stan James worked. Some people used to hang out at Lucky Luke's just to catch a glimpse of him, hearts fluttering. I got this information from a friend and this part was also not in my TED Talk but I hope it came across in the sub-text.


Here's Olivia Court where I lived also in the corner flat with two balconies, first with my first love and then with his friend who I married. Moving along swiftly ...

Speaking of firsts, this was my first place in Hillbrow where I moved when I left school. I lived under this house in a little flatlet that had a grate where a wall used to be. In the house, at that time, were Boetie, Loftie, Buzzard and Mrs Doreen Baptiste. There are stories about them and those days still to come, suffice now to say that Loftie was as big as Ponte and he wore a vest and kicked the dog and scratched. Here is a close-up Johannes Dreyer, who took all these photographs, captured before we kind of made our way rather fast out of this particular street after getting that feeling.

When I lived there circa 1979 it was not a wank. This fact was in my TED Talk but I am not sure the audience got it. The photograph probably made them feel a bit anxious and apparently they don't wank. I mean they don't use the word wank so much in America. I am sure they play with themselves though and there are lots of banks that get bailed out and everything.






Friday, 01 March 2013 11:37


A Tall Story


In 1968 the apartheid government, in their infinite wisdom, decided to honour Mr J G Strijdom, a man who had served them well, as Minister of Posts & Telecommunications, and as Prime Minister, by pouring 269 metres of cold concrete power, in his name, right into the middle of inner city Johannesburg - Hillbrow - then the aspiring flatland of a middle-class, predominantly European immigrant community.

It was referred to as the South African Post Office Tower and officially called the J G Strijdom Tower.  I wonder: was this the first spectacular sign of what Achille Mbembe now calls the crisis of imagination in South Africa?


Image and Copyright David Goldblatt, 1968


When he gave me these images to use for the telling of The Tall Story, David Goldblatt told me that he recalls that those who created the monstrosity wanted the tower, a microwave signal facility, to be located at the highest point of Johannesburg, and that they had identified this part of Hillbrow as the highest point above sea-level. Anyone who knows Joburg knows there were higher points, on Linksfield and the surrounding Observatory Ridge. But they didn't care about that. They were staking their claim and drove it, relentlessly, 40 metres into the ground and then almost 300 metres above it, as a sign of their preoccupation with size and ownership of our hearts and the sky.


Image and Copyright David Goldblatt, 1971


Today, if you want to see cranes in the sky in Johannesburg, you must travel North to Sandton Central where the currents and the currency flowed as early as 1976 when the riots against apartheid education in Soweto sparked a national response and a big white fright that gave impetus to property developers to begin building a new 'edge city' away, they thought, from fear, and towards, they hoped, the politics of making extraordinary amounts of money, more than anyone, you would think, could ever wish for. A politics that has prevailed right through apartheid and into the new, improved South Africa.


Image and Copyright David Goldblatt, 1971


My friend and social raconteur Herby Opland, told me he grew up in one of the flats opposite. He said he watched them build it twenty-four hours a day for two years. Until, he said "It stole the sky."


Image and Copyright David Goldblatt, 1971


When he said we have a crisis of imagination in South Africa, the other day at the New Imaginaries Symposium at the Goethe Institute, Achille Mbembe also said, that unless we recognise the crisis and do something about it we are doomed to repeat ourselves.


Image sourced off the web and found, photographer unknowndated 1975, at and used here without permission (though it is sought) and with thanks.



In those days, if you were white and had 20c you could ride the high-speed lift at 6 metres per second to one of the six public floors where there were viewing decks, bars, a fancy grill room, event facilities and this revolving restaurant called Heinrich's where you be wined and dined and violined while looking at the view. I remember going up and looking through a telescope, though the image in my head is in black and white and blurry. For all I know the memory is not true and is only a picture in my head. I do know for certain that soon after it was built, most people called it The Hillbrow Tower and still do.

The public in South Africa was, then, the white public. If you were black you could go up if you worked there, and most likely you had to use the staff lift which I understand was slow in comparison. The public is a difficult notion for power in South Africa. I think it might always have been.

In the 1980s, during one of a series of States of Emergency, when the bombs were going off in the dustbins in Joburg, the government declared the building a National Keypoint and closed the tower to everyone, no matter the race they were running in.


Image and Copyright Johannes Dreyer, February 2013


Under the same draconian apartheid law, the National Keypoint Act, one that also keeps our current President's home, Nkandla, from public view, the building remains closed. I believe this used to be the main entrance door.


Image and Copyright Johannes Dreyer, February 2013


Here I am the other day, just after knocking on this ridiculous door. I think a lot about what is public about this public building. And our sky. Achille Mbembe was speaking to my heart which for twenty, increasingly odd years, has been determined to facilitate a project to use the tower as a canvas for a public arts initiative that will give us, as the late great Sowetan sculptor Ezrom Legae said, "something beautiful to look up to." Instead of this:


Image and Copyright Johannes Dreyer, February 2013


I beg your pardon, I mean this:


Image and Copyright Johannes Dreyer, February 2013


Recently, after knocking my head against the concrete for all these years (yes, I am dented), the corridors of current power turned and have decided they think the idea is amazing. They say we must do it. They share our confidence that the public art project will catalyse an imaginative approach to genuine inner city development in Hillbrow. They have managed to ring-fence a budget for an urban upgrade of the precinct around the tower's circumferance, including funds for the arts within the city's streets. Significantly, they have agreed that we can approach the entire project as a neighbourhood initiative and push the local labour involvement to the max.

This means we won't be creating a piece of jewellery in the sky in the midst of the deriliction and chaos that currently surrounds the tower. It means the least sexy part of the budget has been raised and we are left to seek only brave budget for the tower itself. Together, we envisage a public competition in which families, especially children, are encouraged to imagine what they want their sky to look like, as well as a professional artists design competition, one with a strong technical brief (there are limitations to what we could and should do).


In the meantime, thank goodness for the brilliant photographers who have helped so far - David Goldblatt, Johannes Dreyer and now Nadine Hutton - whose brilliant image and visualiation is here:


Image and Copyright Nadine Hutton, February 2012


I just presented this project at TED2013 in Long Beach, California where I hope to reach the heart of a wealthy person(s) who is feeling sad inside and wondering why. For this purpose wealthy people are defined as:


1. People or organisations with financial resources they find challenging to put to good use.

2. People with less who want to live a full life and be part of The Tall Story.

3. Either or both of the above.


Either way though we seek, people who want to take a risk on the crisis of imagination in South Africa, because it is obvious to them - and us - that reasons for living are staring us in the face.


Who owns your view? And, what is your view?



Watch this space for more current and future musings on A Tall Story or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you want to play or pay or both.









Friday, 01 March 2013 11:06


Thursday, 14 February 2013 06:39

don't forget to flush

Scene at Acorn Road, Lower Houghton. Dames en Here. Almal Welkom.

Welcome to our world.



Monday, 14 January 2013 08:53

Renegade License

artatwork's CEO is going to TED2013 to cause as much generous disruption as possible. She is looking forward to making the best and shortest speech of her life, and thanks all her colleagues and intense fans for voting on her audition and saying nice things. You may have seen the new celebratory blog posts on her posterous site here, but if you haven't here's a taste. Our very own big TED hugging Sipho who has no home in all the world, at the Troyeville Bedtime Story a few dark nights hence.


Thursday, 10 January 2013 14:14

iSORE #1

Lesley loves eye-sores because they remind her, on very bad days, exactly why she was born. From now on you can expect irregular postings of images and texts on this here blog featuring them in all their splendour - ... so that none of us forget how completely unacceptable we find them. This, iSore #1, named after myPhone, was seen at Eastgate Shopping Centre a few days back. I am afraid shopping malls are currently not considered for neighbourhood target practice, replete as they are with men with big guns and walkie-talkies ... otherwise we might have just turned it into something more interesting. Although it does pose a serious question: Is public space where the people are? And are the people in the shops trying hard to find ways to avoid being useful by emptying their pockets for things they do not need?

Thursday, 10 January 2013 12:33


Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:59



This is not a miniature man. This is Cratefan Elliot in Cape Town. He has thousands of red crates clad

over 36 tonnes of excruciatingly beautiful steel armature that you can't even see. He is made of strong

stuff this dude. He has steel cable ties. He has giant water bottles deep inside him to keep him from

walking away, over the Fancy Grace and up Table Mountain. This is the great artist of the world,

Porky Hefer's little notion for the Olympics. And there's more to come.


If he does escape his weights, Cratefan Elliot has promised me he is coming to Joburg before he jets

off on the new SpaceShip those scientists at CERN don't even know they are making yet out of Higgs

Bosons. And because he is carrying this torch for all of us little particles.


I said for all of us. Flames of hope for a Gold. And Oscar Pistorius, if you are the one, Cratefan

Elliot's going to run to the airport to give you a big red monster hug when you come home.

I will see to it in our dreams. You are our Iron Giants you two. Porky on the other hand, is a

gentle soul. With a name like Pig how could you imagine otherwise?


Thanks to Coca Cola for opening happiness and making it possible for Cratefan Elliot to represent the

"endeavour for protection, the struggle for victory, the light of spirit, knowledge and life."

And to Robin Sprong for the images. I feel like springing.

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