“So, can you tell us what is the emergency in Johannesburg at the moment in your opinion?” – I heard Thierry Geoffroy saying to the taxi driver even before we left the parking area at the airport.
It is not the first time I hear this question being posed. Especially when we com to a new country, Thierry would ask local people about the emergencies. That would be part of his artistic research. But no matter how often and in how many different occasions I have heard the question, the answers can still astonish me. It somehow always opens up to new discoveries and interesting information.
Lack of stability
This time, the Johannesburg taxi driver said: “The emergency is instability”…” we have some very unstable politicians here in South Africa, but I guess the politics is collapsing all around the world” he said “Just look at what is happening with Trump and Hillary in USA.” “Here in South Africa, there are the politicians doing the old politics and there are those who are trying to start new political platforms.”
The steering wheel is on the right side in South Africa, so from where I was siting, I could not see the taxi driver’s profile or his full facial expression, only his eyes in the back mirror “We can not wait anymore” he said. He explained that there are too many problems that only can be solved politically and that there is no time to wait for the old politicians to die in order to start changing the development of the country. The methods from “old politics” are not working anymore, because the surrounding world is changing, so the “new politics” has to find new ways. “We are not a banana republic yet, and I think we can develop a lot.” said proudly the taxi driver.
I tried to understand the different main political parties’ profiles. The ANC (African National Congress ) was representing what our taxi driver calls the old politics. They are politically correct with both white, colored, indian and black race represented as well as 50/50 gender balance between men and women. But they don’t deliver solutions to the new situations of the country. Then there are couple alternatives such as DA (Democratic Alliance) which is a second biggest party and EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) that is trying to bring the economy back to the black people.
Unemployment and chicken feeds
“Another big problem is unemployment. People don’t have money. A typical diet for many South Africans would be chicken feeds and many people can only afford to have one meal a day.” This is, what they call surviving class.
We asked more about the job situation. He explained that the companies were more willing to hire workers from Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Congo than South African because the foreign workers are not complaining about the working conditions. At the same time, they are very good workers with good working discipline maybe connected to their cultures. “Even myself, I have a small business, and I have hired foreigners to take my business to another level.“
The unemployment is one of the main reasons for xenophobia he explained “He looked at me through back mirror” and said, “You know, when we talk about white – black conflict we say apartheid, but when we talk about black – black conflict we say xenophobia.” I nodded my head as to confirm that I understood. I could see in his eyes that this was an important problem for him, I guess because it is not only destabilizing the economy but also the way people live together. Xenophobia is inevitably linked with fear and fear is very fast representing itself in crime.
Both Thierry and I were listening carefully to our taxi driver from the backseat of the car. “you have a lot of opinions” Thierry said to the taxi driver “ did you ever consider being more active in politics.” “No..” he answered “..because it is too dangerous and you need protection.”..”in theory we do have freedom of speech, but in practice, you can not speak without protection. Many politicians have been victims of complots too. This is why our politics is lacking stability”
Safety as a currency
We were slowly entering the part of downtown which I new from my last visit to Johannesburg when Thierry and I came for the research. That is less than a year ago, but the neighborhood did not seem to have changed much. We are going to stay in the same building like last time. They used to tell us that this is one of the very few areas in Johannesburg where one can walk without fear. It is safe here they would tell us many times. Safety here is almost like a product. Safety has become the new currency. Especially when you look at the prices in this hipster like area comparing them to other more dangers parts of town, you discover that someone is earning big money on safety, and I don’t think that the people living in the streets are benefiting much from this business.
I’m going to spend at least 20 days here, working with artists who are going to express about dysfunctions. In the process, I hope to find out more about the transformation of this area.