This is Craftmen’s Ship, the latest addition to the Maboneng Precinct’s innercity expansion project. It’s currently under development; a project due for completion in under a month. Two years ago, the land on which this building now sits was occupied by a couple of Tanzanian homies who manufactured furniture and fixed vehicles. One day, a representative from Propertuity showed up to tell them that they’d have to vacate the space. I’m not sure why; perhaps it was the recently-hiked rent, which they couldn’t afford. Upon hearing this, one of the main cats involved in running the space dropped dead.
And that was it.
The violence of innercity reclamation projects — or gentrification, specifically around Jeppestown in Johannesburg — has yet to be explored in full. This violence, enacted on spaces occupied by poor, black bodies, continues to this day, unabated. The building opposite this one has also been vacated and is undergoing ‘renovations’. It goes without saying that after said renovations are complete, the residents who formerly occupied the building, who probably had to scrap their belongings at the last minute lest the infamous Red Ants goons gang up on them and rough them up, like they’ve done so often over the past year, won’t return. They won’t be able to; the rent would’ve gone all the way up.
Yet every week, I receive a Maboneng Precinct newsletter proclaiming the grand developments happening around the area. The latest one is entitled Opportunities, New Beginnings and Exciting Events. But for whom exactly? Is it for the people of Jeppestown, or for the pale skins who fled the innercity because bleks found freedom as the 90s dawned?
This post-Apartheid breed of bleks weren’t required to carry dompasses. They could go anywhere they wanted in Mzansi and not be expected to be back in their ghetto enclaves when the sun went down. They were free to roam in Jozi; and roam and inhabit and spread is what they did. It’s theirs and their ancestors’ land afterall.
The newsletter makes mention of a recently-installed artwork situated at the fork where vehicles negotiate the tarmac of Albertina Sisulu and Commissioner streets, a few feet from the overhead bridge where more vehicles, headed for the East Rand, for Durban, for the South of Jozi and elsewhere, perform their daily dilly-dally for space. The gargantuan cement installation, titled Maboneng Man, is part of artist Ledelle Moe’s Displacement series. I found myself wondering whether the artist or commissioning agency sought public opinion; whether there was concensus with all stakeholders that this dump-as-public-art would be desirable for the people whose path has now been partly blocked by the structure.
Instead of inclusion, all I’ve witnessed over the past 4 years living in this area is white people bigging up other white people. I’ve seen black artists in and around Jeppestown ignored in favour of their white counterparts who get called to essentially put the stamp of Whiteness on our black psyches; to perform violence of the highest order with wide grins on their faces.