With the promise of Zebra sightings our first hike in South Africa was in Faerie Glen Reserve, 10 minutes from Melissa’s house. It took us through open grasslands into forest, over streams and up into the hills over Pretoria. It was great to get a taste of some of the wildlife of Africa as we followed the red earth paths and clambered up rocks. However we disappointingly saw no Zebras or Faeries
We asked Melissa about the arts scene in Pretoria and she took us to an independent art space called U-The Space. Melissa knew Sibulile Xabu, one of the organizers whom she met through Capital Arts Revolution events. Capital Arts Revolution is a collective of musicians and artists working to bring soul back to Pretoria.
U – The Space has work spaces, gallery spaces, food and music and promotes collaboration and creativity in the community. They host music and arts events, markets, film nights and talks.
We met a few local artists and had a great conversation with Reatile Moalusi a photographer from Johannesburg. His work is a social conversation, showing not only the inner and outer worlds of his subjects, but sparking discussions about social issues.
Friday night began hanging out in the garden eating a vegan Mexican feast by the fire with the gang and a couple of Euans friends. Wine and beer abound in celebration of the end of the week. Euan and friends were getting ready to head out to a local club called Arcade Empire to see Fokofpolisiekar (which translates as ‘fuck off police car’, pronounced ‘fook off polisie car’) We were told that the band is an Afrikaner institution, infamous for their anti-conservative stance. We jumped at the opportunity to party and experience this cultural phenomenon.
Arcade Empire comprised of many rooms including the dj booth, band room, games area and multiple outdoor areas. There was a running theme of early Mario’s brothers murals covering the walls with balloon hangings, as if taken out of a school prom. We spent a fair amount of time on the arcade games with Emmily kicking Melissa and Dotahn’s ass on a knock-off of street fighter.
During Fokofpolisiekar the crowd mashed into the band room and shouted out all the lyrics to the songs, words we couldn’t understand due to them being in Afrikaans. A fun night despite choking to death on cigarette smoke.
We made plans to explore Johannesburg but when we asked around everyone seemed surprised we wanted to go and could give us no tips on what to see other than the apartheid museum. Joburg is the largest city in South Africa and as is the sad story with a lot of large cities, Johannesburg went into a major decline from the eighties to the nineties. The city center itself began to crumble and crime rates sky-rocketed as all urban development money was spent on large suburban malls and gated communities. We became painfully aware of our whiteness in downtown Jozi being the only whiteys in sight
The Art Gallery of Johannesburg is a great crumbling ruin. Some efforts have been made to restore it, but the cracks are definitely showing. However there was still some great art in the gallery. A small series of photos by Peter Ballen featuring Die Antwoord, some interesting contemporary African sculpture and a huge exhibition by a great young South African artist Happy Dhlame which was hidden in the basement. We only discovered it when seeing a sign to the toilets which led down a huge curved stairwell, far too grand for mere bathrooms.
We wandered for a while through downtown, checking out the street art and then went to the Wits Gallery. There was a huge show by a South African artist Penny Siopis which was powerful, disturbing and at times very beautiful. Her work ranged from large-scale paintings which used a visceral combination of glue and ink depicting physically and emotionally violent scenes, large scale ready-made sculpture work, video art and a series based on the urban myth of Pinky Pinky.
Pinky Pinky is a mythical figure, a skulking pink being which hides in places frequented by young girls. Pinky Pinky embodies many fears of pre-pubescent and pubescent girls, lurking in female toilets and locker rooms, demanding money, attacking and even raping young girls. Some say Pinky Pinky is not only the embodiment of the insecurities of young girls, but also the scapegoat for acts of child abuse and rape which people find too abhorrent to attribute to actual people.
Our last stop in Johannesburg was the Apartheid Museum. A comprehensive study of the history and effects of the apartheid on South Africa, the museum used clever displays and exhibits to discuss and teach about the very recent atrocities of the apartheid. Upon arrival you are given a ticket which segregates you into using the black or white entrance to the museum.
We were surprised at the extent of the segregation. Outlandish methods for testing race were used and even members of the same family were ripped apart if members were ‘proven’ to be of different races. It was not only black vs. white, but a myriad of different races and classes. Because the white people in power needed cheap labor they made camps from which they could transfer people to the mines or building projects. Some of these areas began to flourish with people of various races living together and creating their own vibrant culture. This was threatening to those in power and they would forcibly relocate people into their different racial groups. Activists and dissenters were imprisoned or killed regardless of race and the violence, humiliation and brutality of this era has left lasting scars on the people of South Africa.
Also, we forgot to mention fish pals of Melissa’s.
Afternoon sun meant naps in the grass and practicing complex high five routines with Daffy Dog.