So many people who have moved here have come as refugees, searching for ‘gold’ in one form or another. So for over a century now, Johannesburg has been a beacon for people from all over the world, offering the promise of a better life.
The inner city comprises a densely populated landscape, filled with high-rise office buildings and apartments. Accommodation is cheap, catering for the waves of immigrants who move through these Flatlands. The formerly mainly white population has dwindled to a sprinkling and the inner city has, instead, become a hub for the entire sub-continent. Life in many parts of the Flatlands is difficult. In some blocks, ten or more tenants live in tiny partitions of once-larger flats, filling each room with their possessions. Lifts are often broken and buildings are in need of repair. Security guards are stationed outside buildings that house other security guards.
But Johannesburg has an infectious momentum and relentless energy and drive. It’s the excitement that overpowers the fear. Streams of people walk the streets. Children go to school, taxi hooters echo off the buildings as they race to beat the amber light. Outside shops, MC’s call to customers through microphones, mixed to a distorted house music beat. Streets are congested with cars and people. Shops sell anything and everything. There are beggars, street performers, shoppers, traders, bars, clubs and churches, as there are in any other urban space. Kids bunk school and go to the movies. Schools and crèches open up in high rise buildings, next door to hair salons and Sangomas (traditional healers). Bars are open all day and night. Churches are full of hands in the air.
Everyone is watching their back but going forward.
Shoul wanted to document this new era of the Flatlands in post-Apartheid times. This huge mix of people and culture squeezed so tightly together in a place barely able to contain it all. This is an area that was once compared to the great modern cities of the first world. Now it has taken on a significantly different character; it is a space of transience, a place on the way to something better, be it in South Africa or back at home. He wanted to see how people are making their own way through this amazing matrix of crumbling buildings, while still holding onto the promise of a better future.
By Marc Shoul