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No Man’s Land

by Morrel Shilenge / 24.07.2013

Come Easter Weekend, Christmas Day or any long holiday, Johannesburg becomes deserted. Vacant. All magarabas go to their homelands. Ibayi, Limpopo, Gaborone, Zimbwabwe. They fill trains, buses and taxis. Ndiya goduka. I am going home. You will often hear people say out loud. That is the time I usually sneak into the city and enjoy the scenery. I have become an occasional returnee, since I left the city for the countryside and peace of mind, away from the rat race Jozi is so famous for.

Johannesburg is not your friend. It belongs to no one. No language group dominates. Nobody belongs here more than you and I do. South African ID or not. How long can a person go on until they say they belong to a place? Even if you were born here, it is primarily a place of work. That’s the allure of the city of lights. No one, I think, could call Johannesburg home.

It was the photographer David Goldblatt who said: ‘Johannesburg is seldom a beautiful city; it has its rare moments.” That he couldn’t honestly say that he loves it. However, misses it when he’s away and when it rejoices.

Migrants come to South Africa and most end up in Johannesburg looking for the African Dream; finding ‘Ispani’ or trying to create it. Most frequently referred to as a perilous place, there are few romanticised views of this city, except for the glorious Johannesburg skyline. But it’s easy to get lost in Johannesburg’s compulsive pace. The ceaseless redefinition and constant change, by the time you think I now know you; it changes.

However you see it. Joburg is yours. It belongs to no one.

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*All images © Morrel Shilenge.

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