Johannesburg

Where Times and Spaces Overlap

This multimedia documentary was created as the result of a workshop program held by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation South Africa and the German non-profit media agency JournAfrica! in September 2017. In a five-day workshop, 17 journalists from the SADC-region conducted research on current affairs in regards to Johannesburg’s urban development.

It’s a Saturday evening in the Maboneng precinct, Johannesburg. On a rooftop, where you can admire the skyline of the city and easily forget the downsides of the world, dozens of well-dressed cosmopolitans move to the rhythms of international pop music. The atmosphere is wild and larking, the dance floor is illuminated by the warm and smooth light of the sunset. Even the functional, joyless high-rise buildings of the Central Business District begin to glow.   

Only a few hundred meters away, outside of the sovereign territory of the private security guards assigned to obtain the safety of the precinct, another reality unfolds. The black smoke of burned litter irritates the nose. With a squeaking noise on the pavement, trash collectors push their findings forward, encompassed by rapid traffic and deteriorating buildings.  

There are only a few cities on the globe where the extreme contrasts of human existence are that close together. Johannesburg is one of them. Globally connected businessmen and -women live directly next to people being left alone in their uncertainty on how to cope with the next day. Most of them don’t have any interest in each other or, what makes it even more severe, don’t even know that their counterpart exists.   

Globalization has always been a highly selective phenomenon that creates such places in which different times and spaces overlap. Globalization is always linked to the combination of connectivity and exclusion, of privilege and misery. Usually, those divergences are more visible between metropolitan and peripheral areas, between neighboring countries, between the Global North and the Global South. In Johannesburg, all this happens in the very same neighborhood.  

Johannesburg is, as political scientist Achille Mbembe emphasized, „the premier African Metropolis“. This goes along with the ability to disrupt realities and to generate own forms of cultural and social coexistence. In other words: Johannesburg is growing along unknown pathways that haven’t been walked on before. It is the interplay between people, ideas and images that constitutes the city itself. It is the way in which people generate new forms of social organization, of political struggle, of practices of everyday life, of housing, urban transportation and earning money that makes a metropolis unique.