The inner city of Johannesburg is about as far away as one can get from the popular image of the African village. Though one of Africa’s most urbanized settings, it is also seen as a place of ruin - of ruined urbanization, the ruining of Africa by urbanization. But in these ruins, something besides decay may be happening. … These ruins not only mask but also constitute a highly urbanised social infrastructure. This infrastructure is capable of facilitating the intersection of socialities so that expanded spaces of economic and cultural operation become available to residents of limited means.
What the inner city provides is an intersection where different styles, schemes, sectors and practices can make something of and from one another. … Johannesburg becomes a launching pad not only for better livelihoods within the inner city, but also for excursions into a broader world, whether Dubai or Mumbai or the pool halls of Hillbrow and the white suburb of Cresta just a few kilometers away.
With limited institutional anchorage and financial capital, the majority of African urban residents have to make what they can out of their bare lives. Although they bring little to the table of prospective collaboration and participate in few of the mediating structures that deter or determine how individuals interact with others, this seemingly minimalist offering - bare life - is somehow redeemed. It is allowed innumerable possibilities of combinatuion and interchange that preclude any definitive judgment of efficacy or impossibility. By throwing their intensifying particularisms - of identity, location, destination, and livelihood - into the fray, urban residents generate a sense of unaccountable movement that might remain geographically circumscribed or travel great distances.
Abdoumaliq Simone “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg”, reproduced in K Pinther; L Forster & C Hanussek Afropolis: City Media Art
(2012). (via urbanjoburg