Saturday, June 30, 2012

Uitvalgrond - Surplus ground

Site of former Shareworld

If there is any notion of landscape that defines Johannesburg it is perhaps best described by the Afrikaans word ‘uitvalgrond’, which translates into English as ‘surplus ground’. Uitvalgrond was the word used to describe the original triangular-shaped farm of Randjieslagte, which fell between 3 larger farms and was selected as the site on which the city was originally planned. The Transvaal Government didn’t think the mining town would last very long and so this dusty, flat surplus ground had seemed sufficient. In the current shape of the city, the idea of the surplus ground applies to those areas that appear empty, falling between or alongside new developments, the extensions of highways, shopping malls, parking lots and major intersections, alongside railway lines between mine dumps and mine shafts no longer in operation. These seemingly ‘natural’ interstices within the urban and sub-urban fabric of the city are not necessarily unoccupied or unused, often the space is the territory of informal traders or trash collectors and taxi yards, as well as the city’s indigent and homeless, or simply a pathway cutting across it. These areas extend along the railway line, underneath highway flyovers, or between main roads and new shopping centres, often describing the edges of greater Johannesburg. One example are the areas surrounding the Chinese trading centres, China Mall, Afrifocus and Dragon City, built on the original Crown Mines, where an aerial view reveals left-over mine structures behind the new developments. Inside the city, however, different ‘edges’ become apparent – between immigrant communities staking claim on streets, such as the Ethiopian/Erritrean community in Jeppe Street; or between gentrified zones and the territories adjacent to them, such as Arts on Main. In Johannesburg ‘surplus ground’s’ define the zones between the visible edges of the man-made and what we might define as ‘landscape’. They are most legible from the highway, and through the window of the Gautrain as it leaves Marlboro station for the 15 minute ‘trip’ from Alexandra to Sandton.
Looking at the city from Google earth reveals many zones of surplus ground, stranded spaces and abandoned sites that speak of the city’s history and development not as monument or memorial but as trace, tear or scar. In a sense we can think of these surplus grounds as stranded historical sites, such as the old Village Main Mine alongside the M2 near to the Heidelberg off ramp where about two years ago the symbolic head-gear was removed (possibly to be recycled).
Mining conveyor belt, Crown Mines area behind Afrifocus Mall
“There’s no question that Soweto is something of an recreational desert,” said Shareworld’s executive director, Reuel Khosa (developer of shareworld complex). “This place came in as an oasis.”  (Los Angeles Times, 1988, David Crary)
Built in the 1980’s as an entertainment and water-world for Sowetans, Shareworld contained an ‘artificial sea, a 2000 foot sand beach and wave-making machines as well as a discotheque and cinema complex. Publicised as ‘a victory for all those South Africans who still believe there is hope in South Africa’, the irony of the building of a beach for black people during the political violence of the 1980’s cannot go unmissed. Shareworld was closed since the mid-90’s, used only intermittently as a venue for dance parties, film shoots and a meeting of the Landless People’s forum during the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002. It became a surreal ruin, resembling a Spanish fishing village located between the massive mine dumps on the edge of Orlando West and Meadowlands, just off the road to the National Exhibition show grounds, NASREC. It was demolished in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup and is now an empty site opposite the Soccer City Stadium. Its only visible use are the driving schools that use the parking lot as a practice ground.

View from a light aircraft, approaching Shareworld site from Soweto
Shareworld has become an ‘uitvalgrond’, located at the intersection of several trajectories in the history of the city’s development: apartheid planning’s separation of amenities; the mining history visible in the two tailings dams (mine dumps) that dominate the landscape and recent large-scale, event driven development around the soccer world cup, including up-grade of the approach roads and the Bus Rapid Transit system. 

What is legible at the this site is the particular relationship between a nature that is man-made, in excess of the urban, defined more by the sub-urban and perhaps even the subterranean.[i]

Bettina Malcomess lectures in theory and history at the Wits School of Arts and the School of Architecture. She works as an artist and writer, and is currently completing a book about Johannesburg with Dorothee Kreutzfeldt titled, ‘Not No Place’, to be published by Jacana Media.

[i] This text accompanies a short tour of the site with Anne Historical, along with an installation of elements of the Millennium Bar, a temporary, movable ‘bar’ built out of material from demolition sites and scrap yards.


Anonymous said...

thanks, bettina, for this fascinating take on johannesburg. i'm so looking forward to your live introduction of Shareworld. and to the book!

live sports said...

nice work

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