Walking Joburg with Josine Overdevest 2018

A walk in the inner city from 1 Fox Street to Gandhi Square and back: led by Josine Overdevest

About Josine Overdevest 

Passionate, visionary, generous and inspiring are all words that come to mind when describing Josine Overdevest. For over 25 years (over 15 of these in South Africa), Josine Overdevest has worked in information and communication technology.   Through her company Bamboo Rock, Josine works widely in digital development but she is particularly excited about the potential of digital technology in the educational sector and its potential for student and teacher development (something that is very dear to my heart).  Seeing the difficulty that first-time employees have in entering the job market, she established Flying Cows of Jozi, an initiative which involves mentoring students in digital education projects.  The postgrad students (all in the  Education Faculty at the University of Johannesburg) have recently worked on educational material in the digital space for South African high schools. They have received glowing feedback on their work from no less a publishing luminary than Cambridge University Press.    

Flying Cow Interns
Flying Cows of Jozi interns at Gauteng Opera performance 1 Fox Precinct. From Left to right: Karabo, Tokhozile, Tshenelo, Josine, CJ (standing), Kenneth (seated) Hulisani (standing), Thami (seated). MJ and Edna

#SingtheCity with Flying Cows of Jozi

Josine’s passion for Jozi and the inner city (she lives around the corner from 1 Fox Precinct), is very evident when she takes occasional tours of the inner city. And Saturday 29th September her walk was a fund-raiser for much needed funds to enable Gauteng Opera students to continue their studies.  Accompanying Josine (to help manage the errant and straying sheep in the group!), were the student interns working for Flying Cows of Jozi.  Both Flying Cows of Jozi and Gauteng Opera are based in Marshall town, and both organisations provide young people with education and personal development.  With the walk the Flying Cows of Jozi students helped raised funds for the opera students to continue their studies with the Gauteng Opera Academy.  Students helping students. 

Gauteng Opera
Amazing performance by the young Gauteng Opera singers at 1 Fox St . Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

Route from 1 Fox to Gandhi Square and back 

We followed a route from 1 Fox Precinct along Commissioner St and through Old Chinatown to the trading area of Diagonal Street.  Passing Luthuli House we walked to the centre of municipal Government (both historical colonial as well current legislative bodies) with the City Library, Beyers Naude Square, the City Hall, and the old Rissik Street Post Office.  Then after a welcome coffee break at Bridge Books, we made our way to Gandhi Square and then back towards 1 Fox along the Mining Mall of Main Street to listen to the glorious voices of young Gauteng Opera singers. What a treat!  

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Themes of the tour

In her pre-walk preamble Josine talked about some of the themes of the tour which, along with Jozi as a city based on mining, trading and contradictions, also included the thread of social and political activism.  And as we walked the city and engaged with various people, sights and sites, I was struck yet again with the various different ways in which this gritty city is being revived –  But that’s for another blog so let’s tackle the activism theme first!  

Jozi Central as a site of activism 

The various public sculptures that we passed say a lot: 4 great political activists (well 5 actually because there are 2 people in the sculpture below), are memorialized in very different ways:

Walter and Albertina Sisulu 2010 depicted by Marina Walsh in completely human terms: as the mother and father of the nation and as the loving connected couple they were. Cnr Diagonal and Albertina Sisulu St (what was called Market St). Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za
The Colossus Martin Fourie
Oliver Tambo memorialized in abstract global terms in The Colossus  2016 by Martin Fourie  (Opposite Beyers Naude Square)

Most of the continents are represented on this work in fragmented concrete slabs mounted on angled brick plinths. The massive letters OLIVER REGINALD TAMBO are inset into the representations of the continents of North and South America. Across Europe and Russia the text reads: “A GREAT GIANT WHO STRODE THE GLOBE LIKE A COLOSSUS HAS FALLEN.  NELSON MANDELA 2 MAY 1993 (the opening words spoken by Mandela at Tambo’s funeral). 

Shadow Boxer
The Shadow Boxer Marco Cianfanelli 2013 Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

Cianfanelli‘s large scale sculpture is located in Fox St outside the Magistrates’ Court and opposite Chancellor House – the building which housed the law firm of Tambo and Mandela. The image is based on the famous photograph taken by Drum photographer Bob Gosani, of Mandela sparring with Jerry Moloi on the rooftop of the South African Associated Newspaper building. 

Mahatma Gandhi by Tinka Christopher 2003

Difficult to believe, but the the small bronze sculpture elevated on a large plinth in Gandhi Square is said to be the only sculpture of Gandhi that depicts him in his legal robes.  

I can’t leave out the work in Beyers Naude Square despite the fact that I  find it visually offensive and unconvincing in terms of message: a public sculpture of a woman with a baby on her back  carrying a Molotov Cocktail in one hand and a Democracy is Dialogue placard in the other.   

Democracy in Dialogue Lawrence Lemaoana
Democracy is Dialogue Lawrence Lemaoana 2015 Beyers Naude Square. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

This is what the artist Lawrence Leaoana says about the work:  

a figure inspired by the global image of the goddess of democracy, usually holding a light in the form of a torch. This particular figure holds a bottle with a candle .. in it which has an ambiguous quality as it also refers to the history of violence in reaching democracy, [the] Molotov Cocktail. The work for me speaks to the idea that women in protest were not passive as characterized by popular South African history but active agents in achieving their own freedom. …She stands on a plinth that is not traditional or normal, three pillars representing the antagonist, the protagonist and the deuteragonist.  

I’m unclear as to who these three “agonists”are. I find the juxtaposition of baby and aggression unconvincing; the bulky figure teetering on the triangulated poles disproportionate;  and the combination of Molotov Cocktail in one hand and a sign saying “Democracy is Dialogue” in the other, ironic to say the very least. 

Far more effective is the simple form which counters the looming presence of Johannesburg Central Police Station (the infamous John Vorster Square Police Station): Simakade by Kagiso Pat Mautloa. 

Simakade by Pat Kagiso Mautloa 2006

Simakade which in isiZulu means Forever Standing, is a huge granite rock (sourced by the sculptor Angus Taylor) bound with wire and mounted on a plinth.  Symbolizing struggle and resilience, it speaks to the deaths in detention at John Vorster Police Station during apartheid.  This form of simple monumentality is very powerful and for me, far more convincing, than the heavy-handed propagandistic figurative and outdated style of Soviet Socialist realism that still seems to have such currency in South Africa.  

Gauteng Opera so deserves all our support. 

Gauteng Opera #SingtheCity at 1FoxPrecinct. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za


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