Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Genius That Is, Kgafela oa Magogadi

Johannesburg is historically ‘the city of the white man.’ We hope it has changed. Pass laws are now applied to Africans from the rest of the continent. The darker you are the more ‘illegal’ you look. Who bothers foreigners who look ‘legal’? Is it a Pan-African city in which the whiter or lighter you are, the more ‘legal’ you look. The idea of a Pan-African City is tricky. What does it mean? Is it because there are so many African people impacting on the city’s temperament? Do these Africans beat drums? What is a Pan-European City like? Is it like Cape Town? Is Durban Pan-Indian? Back to Johannesburg; there is the Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg for Indian businesses. There’s Chinatown around Bruma Lake. Is it about ownership? Africans own which part of the city? Africans are either struggling to pay the rent or they trade from street pavements. Is this what we mean by Pan-African spaces? … Africans always looking out for police … Police always raiding ‘illegal’ African vendors… I really need to be advised about the meaning of a Pan-African City. 

I grappled with this in Itchy City:

sobukwe’s flock grow cabbages and sweet potatoes on street pavements to feed clothe and school the children school the children teach them to walk on fire, who says the fire is fictitious, it’s a furious figment of the city’s madness, we point fingers at Nigerians, but who is shooting poison in the arms of wingless angels, heaven help us.

extract appears in the essay "Johannesburg" by Jyoti Mistry in the African Cities Reader, April 2010.

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