Hug me

We go to visit Masimbambane School in Orange Farm which is a township located approx. 50 km south of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province. Orange Farm is the largest informal settlement in South Africa, with most estimates giving a population of 350,000 people.

Masimbambane College, a private run school, is in part funded by the city of Vienna. We get a tour through the college by a staff member. As soon as the children see the woman they run up to her and hug her. We are taken to class rooms and to the kindergarden. The kids love to pose in front of the camera. Then they come close and give me a hug. As I do the same there is no holding back. More and more kids come running and hug me. What a different feel to meeting Europeans, it’s great!

Mamelodi

is a township east of Pretoria which was set up on a former farm. In the 1960ies black people were forcefully removed out of one of the capital’s suburbs to different townships, one of them being Mamelodi. The name means Mother of Melodies after president’s Paul Kruger ability to imitate birds. The township is home to the Mamelodi Sundowns of SA’s Premier Soccer League.

We visit two schools which are part of the YDF (Youth Development through Football) program, a program organized by NGOs and German association GTZ (Gesellschaft für techn. Zusammenarbeit). The program is aimed at developing life skills of young members of underprivileged communities in leadership abilities, ecological awareness and HIV/AIDS prevention etc.

We accompany one of the pupils to her home in Mamelodi and get to know her mother and her siblings. We are allowed into their shack where we are struck by heat and the constrictions of an underprivileged life.

Coolest keyboarder on earth

We go to see a live concert of Zubz, a rapper from Simbabwe, who seems to make it big in SA. There is also a gig of Black Dillinger, a rather classic reggae band. The lot of them seem quite old (around 40) and they look as if they had smoked too much dope in the past except for the singer, who seems younger and healthier.

On the keyboard appears a skinny and even older guy who does not speak a word. He just hits the keys emotionlessly which every now and then emanate strange reggae sound effects. The guy appears on stage wearing a suit and a pink rucksack which dangles from his shoulders like an old plastic bag.

As he plays he does neither take of his jacket nor his rucksack which only contains a book or two. After the gig the guy leaves the stage, puts his keyboard in a sack and walks off the scene, still without having a said a single word nor having taken off the pink rucksack. Cool, innit?

Battlefields

After 10 days of work interviewing and filming people we head down south to the southeastern coast. We pass Battlefields, a high plain were the Zulus fighted the Boers in the 19th century. From the highway there is not much to see except for green pastures, cattle and the occasional shanty town. The landscape reminds us of Sweden as it is rather flat and has needle trees. The last 10 km before Durban the highway is winding downhill in direction of the city, but shortly before Durban we turn north to a place called Salt Rock.

Flora and Fauna on the coast

Salt Rock is part of a suburban area which is north of Durban. Suburbia seems to have neither a beginning nor an end, it stretches over miles and miles along the beach. A coast road winds up and down through an endless number of hills. The sea is pretty rough, but its water fairly warm. On the beach we see hordes of crabs which hide under the rocks as soon as we spot them.

We watch a group of dolphins riding the waves like surfers do. They skillfully manage to swim on the rim of the waves. Every now and then one of the dolphins jumps out of the water and shows his grey body. The flora on the coast is lush (subtropical) with a great variety of trees including palm trees. There are colourful birds with long tails (makes them look like skites) and even monkeys.

Monkey Business

We watch a monkey crossing a street. He looks both ways left and right before he crosses the road. The monkey then makes his way through a fence onto private property with an „armed response“ sign in front. Quite surprisingly he does not get shot. Apparently quite a few monkeys get hit by cars instead.

As I go jogging later I see another monkey sitting on a piece of lawn in front of a house. The monkey whose back is turned towards me munches quietly. As he gets aware of me he turns around his head to look at me without any emotion. Does he charge me?

I wonder if there is only one monkey in town which shows off to the tourists on different spots making them believe that there is great wildlife in town. I decide I have to take a picture of the monkey(s). Maybe then will I be able to tell one from the other, if there is any other at all. On my way back the bugger is gone…

At the beach

Salt Rock is part of a tourist area with B&Bs, some hotels and holiday apartments. Although the Christmas (and summer) season has recently started there are not many tourists around.
It is apparent that all restaurants and B&Bs are run by white people and that the waiters and servants are black. That’s a bit different from Joburg.

On Sunday we go to a public beach close to Salt Rock. At first there are hardly any people but then more and more people show up. They arrive in their cars with the music pitched up to the max. Some of them have a barbecue party in the parking area of the beach. The place gets crowded and messed up, it’s a bit chaotic and great.

A great last day in Joburg

Tuesday Dec 15 is our last day in South Africa which we spend in Jozi. In the morning we take a minibus from Melville to the center. This is my first ride on an African cab as we used a rental car during most of our stay. The bus is in poor condition, it squeeches, actually it seems to fall apart every minute. The driver does not tell us where to get off, thus we go to a different spot than intended. We arrive in Newtown, a central district of Joburg which we like a lot. Newtown is about to develop into Jozi’s cultural center. There is the Market Theater, there are artisans stands and several places to go out. It is also close to Oriental Plaza, home to Joburg’s Indian community.

By accident we meet a new friend of ours, a graffiti artist, who takes us (in an allegedly stolen car) to Goodman Gallery in a different suburb. We visit the exhibition of a young South African artist and then wait to be picked up by another friend, a multimedia and film producer. That friend takes us out to lunch in a fancy neighbourhood.

After lunch he invites us home. We have a few beers and a swim in his pool. He changes cars and takes us in a big BMW to a little shopping center in Melville where we have an appointment with yet another friend. In the car he plays dark African House Music at full volume which makes us feel great and a little decadent after all what we have seen in this country.

A little later we walk back to our house in Melville. For the last time we pass single familiy houses with „armed response“ signs and electrical fences. That’s in stark contrast to the actually nice athmosphere in Melville and the warm air that we breathe.

Intermodem in Debrecen

From September 13 to 20, I participate in an international video art workshop at Modem museum in Debrecen.

15 to 20 video artists from different European countries are invited to develop their projects within a week. Debrecen is situated in the far East of Hungary within 50 km of the Romanian border. The Modem is a big museum for contemporary art that was built 3 years ago. The museum and the square in front look like any other modern museum in the West would look like. Modern architecture in the former East now seems exactly the same like in the West.

A psychotic experience: On the train with David Lynch

In order to reach Debrecen I travel by train from Vienna to Budapest and from there to the East. I change trains at Keleti station in Budapest and get a seat in a compartment with a young student who sits at the window. Except for that boy nobody on the train speaks English. We travel for hours and hours. As I don’t know when I have to get out I have to ask people for the whereabouts of the train at every station where we stop.

After some time a bald-headed guy enters the compartment. He barks at the young man in Hungarian and takes the seat right in front of him although 4 other places are available. The bald guy seems eerie and looks aggressive. Just some days before my trip I read in the newspaper of serial killings committed on Roma people in Debrecen. The far right in Hungary is getting stronger and stronger and the nationalist Fidesz party is constantly gaining votes.

With that story in mind I watch the bald guy. He just looks like a rightist extremist. The student looks scared, in one particular moment he even seems to cry. The bald guy soon falls asleep but wakes up every now and then. I watch both of the men and try to catch the student’s gaze which is reflected in the window but the young man continues to stare out of the window and does not react on the signs which I make. I just don’t know if the baldhead threatens him and he does not dare to get up.

I spend one hour being proccupied until I finally get an idea what to do, just as the train stops at another station. I open the door of the compartment and get out on the aisle. I leave the door open, a young woman comes inside and takes a seat. The baldhead gets up and leaves.

Late Reprise: Party of the year

In July three women who work in fashion, have their birthday party in a tavern in the Viennese Prater. The place is special, it has a bar but also a miniature golf course. People play crazy golf in groups of up to 6 people. Boys are dressed up nicely in 70ies golf outfits according to the occasion, the girls wear mostly evening dresses. I arrive late but get the interesting view on the scene of an outsider. After the match there is music, some of the guests dance Lindy Hop to 30ies Swing music.

Two months earlier in May, at the opening evening of the Vienna (Art) Fair there is a great party on a meadow in the Prater (Vienna’s biggest park). People seem to congregate there accidentally, they seem to come out of nowhere. A dj plays a fine selection of records on a great soundsystem. Surrounded only by trees people dance into the dark.

Hamburg

As a guest of this year’s International Short Film Festival I visit friends in Hamburg. They live in an area called Schanzenviertel. That district has a long history of house-squatting like Hafenstrasse or Marktstrasse in St. Pauli. All of these areas are now great places to go out and they have numerous clothing shops, most of them in an alternative style. There is a completely different athmosphere compared to the bourgeois districts which cover a big part of Hamburg.

Hamburg is a city of cool people, lots of trees and lots of water, be it rivers or channels or steady rain fall. The short film festival called IKFF is a great festival to visit. It goes on for a week and shows short films in 5 different cinemas.