Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sophia Gray & Waiting for Godot

Bloemfontein: It's the University of the Free State's Sophia Gray lecture series and there's - in my estimate - about a thousand architects, academics, students and wannabe architects, and a few journalists listening to the husband-and-wife team of Van der Merwe Miszewski Architects.

I'm in awe, and inspired - architecture is one of my passions. But regarding this discipline I plead ignorance, just an eye-wareness of what I believe works or doesn't.

My architect friend Louis Jonker (of Nelspruit) introduced me - in real-life full-colour 3-D - on a hot, impassioned December day to some of the Van der Merwe Miszewski buildings last year in Cape Town.

I believe it was their 'Tree House' and magnificent 'Bridge House' that we saw, among others, which thoroughly inspired me. Yes, it's good to be here, soaking in this couple's passion, and thank God, humour.

After the lecture there's an exhibition, drinks and dinner at the nearby Oliewenhuis art gallery.

For myself I need to put tonight into perspective, but only by looking over my shoulder at yesterday: two sides of the same coin dear Janus.

Waiting for Godot:

Yesterday was the third day of the 2nd session of the Investigative Journalism Workshop at Wits University. As part of it we visited the refugee reception centre in Johannesburg (Planet Street I think).

I wandered around outside the centre, after our group was essentially thrown out of the centre having only made it through the gate and past the aggressive, angry little hitlerite security guards - with luminous yellow reflector jackets and megaphones restraining their egos, cruelty and pseudo-power.

Hundreds of this continent's most disempowered people waiting. Waiting. Waiting in the blustery August wind laden with the grit-and-dust-and-shit of the dry winter, amongst the reek of human excrement (the public portaloos, maybe 10?, only arrived on Tuesday).

Until then, those waiting shat-and-pissed, menstruated-and-spat-out-their-phlegm on the pavements and in the open lots.

Arrogantly think what you like, but even for the poorest of the poor, time is money. People waiting there for permits and papers (only 50 people from the hundreds are processed per day) are losing what menial jobs they have.

And everyone needs money, especially if it's what might buy you a place further up the queue. (Every single person I spoke told of the bribery and corruption that's as rife as breathing.)

I know that as I sit here tonight a couple of hundred people, with children, even babies, are sleeping on the pavement in the dust, and maybe in the rain, certainly amongst the reek. (The people I'd spoken to there had got there on Tuedsay morning in the hope of making it into the reception centre on Thursday, if not Friday. And they're not waiting impatiently for the latest release of Playstation os some thing alike... .)

Many of them are Zimbabwean. Despite the xenophobic attacks in May, not one of those I spoke to on Wednesday would choose to go back to their country if given the option. They'd rather face potential violence here, also these bleak conditions and poverty, than Mugabe's poverty of spirit and mind.

Sleep easy tonight when you do.

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Martin Hatchuel said...

Waiting for Godot:

Why do I think we've seen this scanario before?

This is how the British tried to solve the problem of the Boers in the veld during the South African War - put their innocents in concentration camps (no portaloos in those days either).

We're STILL struggling with the aftermath of that in South Africa 105+ years later.

Why the hell don't we ever learn?

Shane said...

My heart is sore (and angered) when I read of humans mistreating other HUMANS in ways I wouldn't even treat an animal. I hope and pray for the day when people will realise that we are all ONE human race - ONE blood - and that when we act in manners like this, we act against our very own selves - we disgrace ourselves, our humanity.

I am ashamed that people who call themselves human beings act in manners such as these. I'd rather bury my head in the sand in shame. I hope this article reaches far and wide, and reaches those arrogant, egotistic, people who are the very cause of this digusting situation and who shame the rest of South African society (again).

'What comes around, goes around' and if there is only one thing you remember from this article and comment, then it should be this: 'You will reap what you sow'. Let us learn from history that this type of behaviour will only lead to destruction and serious set-backs.