Traveling on a bus in South Africa with apartheid on the brain, one sees its legacy everywhere. This year’s Johannesburg Workshop of Theory and Criticism, which takes up “The Archives of the Non-Racial” as its theme, is mobile. As we drive around Durban, colonial and apartheid-era architecture is noticeable everywhere. I wonder what remains in these structures. When we try to remake a society, how do we undo and replace social structures that have oppressed and privileged? Even if new monuments and buildings are constructed, streets given new names, the parks, spaces, roadways remain. And thinking and inequality remain. Think: under apartheid, separate walkways and entrances, hospital wings, group areas.
One of the most interesting aspects of the connection between apartheid-era and post-apartheid society is the way that anti-apartheid spaces might differ in these two periods. We visited the Rainbow Restaurant on Saturday afternoon for lunch. Located in Pinetown, a suburb of Durban, a transfer point between the city and the country, the Rainbow is a jazz club founded in the early 1980s. It was an important site in the anti-apartheid struggle, a place that made space not only for jazz musicians but interracial audiences in South Africa. A place where bass, drums, voices, and the clinking of beer bottles made space to imagine and live something other than the apartheid system. It made the argument for the Rainbow Nation—a society of equality, inclusivity, interaction.
When I get more internet, I’ll insert some photos into this post.
1. Had Jimi Visited Joburg the Haze Might Have Been Yellow – The videos I’ve seen of Joburg, always 1970s and 1980s depictions of apartheid and anti-apartheid struggle, depicted a sky, an air of yellow haze, heavy, suggesting the weight of apartheid, the dust kicked up by the enforcement of apartheid and the struggle against. It reminded me of filmic depictions of 1970s and 1980s LA with less brilliant sunshine. Sun City in a haze. I took this to be the quality of videotape.Upon arrival, the haze existed, though I learned that it did in part because of the lack of wind in the winter, the pollution of cars but also from the mines that surround the city—apparently they use cyanide in mining, and those particles are in the air. I also learned that the days of blue sky are common, and after the rain that came, unexpectedly, I got a glimpse of that—though, like LA, the haze returned quickly.
2. Getting WISER – Here in Joburg we are housed at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research at Wits University (the University of the Witwatersrand), the organizers of the Johannesburg Workshop of Criticism and Theory. The origins of the university are related to mining in the area, and gold mining near Joburg that made the city wealthy. There is a very strong history of engineering at the university—figuring out mineral extraction, and the buildings on campus still reflect that strain of research and education (as do some of the office buildings downtown, where huge billboards advertise the community-oriented benefits produces by the work of AngloAfrican, a major mining company).