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White residents fled Johannesburg’s inner city in the 1990s. The removal of the Group Areas Act foreshadowed a flow into the city of black residents and owners of small businesses seeking opportunities and better lives. Former denizens looked back in self-righteous justification at a city that was given over to plunder and mayhem. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, backed up by eyewitness reports and
statistics. Everyone had their horror stories.

In amongst this turmoil stood the tower blocks, occupied by tenants who were holding onto occupancy and managing the buildings in ways of their own devising. Their story had gone something like this: in the 1990s the owners absconded, leaving managing agents to retrieve what rents they could. In most cases, these agents were corrupt, did not pay the utilities, and disappeared with the money. These were tidy sums, handed over by poor people who conscientiously paid up to avoid having to go back to where they came from.

Body corporates became relics of a more genteel era; the communal responsibilities that are contentious in even the most well-heeled blocks were not marked out. Windows were broken and not repaired. Lifts froze and their shafts became tips.

The relationship between tenants and owners or their agents deteriorated with disputes over the state of the buildings and unpaid rents and dues. The buildings started looking like fire hazards, and the City Council started closing on them for unpaid utilities.

The tenants have constituted committees to face these threats, and have with meager resources attempted to clean up the buildings. But they have merely delayed the inevitable. Their committees have no basis in law, and so are vulnerable to investment capital and legal manœuvres that have invoked statutes and non-compliances carrying the penalty of eviction.

In between the needs of City Council and the aspirations of developers anticipating the bloom of an African city lies the fate of Jo’burg’s residents. The outcome will decide whether or not Johannesburg becomes, again, a city of exclusion.

Guy Tillim

47 framed prints : 19 prints 49,6x71,5cm and 28 prints 42x59,4cm

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