It was an eerie time where hushed tones about devising means to keep safe were whispered among the adult population. All talk of politics was banned in the household as it was thought that the only way to remain safe was to be silent on matters of politics. Stories of violence at certain areas was the norm and on some days it was deemed unsafe for us to go school.
It has been 20 years and townships of that part of the world have found a way of that violence and its youth are expressing themselves in interesting ways designed to illustrate how they have swapped the panga in favour of a bottle of Johnnie Walker, or so suggests Muntu Vilakazi’s photographic exhibition, Politics Of Bling: An East Rand Culture Quest at the Goethe Instut. Vilakazi’s images showcase a vibrant youth culture concerned with a good time, a culture with the financial and material resources required to execute memorable times.
This is not to suggest that poverty has been eradicated in these parts but the imagery focuses on fashion, fancy cars, drag racing, and expensive drinks.
Interests are varied and Vilakazi’s exhibition explores this often finding beauty and in sense documenting a time when typical images of squalor are replaced by a new way of life, and where residents are redefining their space and their identity as well.
Vilakazi treads on terrain which may send out the wrong message to foreign prying cultural anthropologists who often omit the social context of their findings.
It is easy to lament this display amid matchbox houses, but there is more to it than that. For example, spinning in the famed BMW 325is remains popular and such shows, as Vilakazi illustrates are very much in sync.
The general pace in the east is still a bit more laid back than that to be found in Soweto for instance, but they are not lagging very far behind as personal expression finds a voice in their social enclaves.