7AM. Crisp, chilly, snap feels the Joburg air. For my morning ritual here, I lay in bed watching the sun break the blue horizon and draw its light across the wall of my room. At first a soft pink light peeks through the darkness. Slowly intensifying its yellow cast, the sun rakes its shadows down the rough-hewn wall whose bricks radiate the warm reddish gold of their Gauteng earth. I’m told that this particular intense winter light has a local name—it is called “masana.”
Joburg is a place of contrasts. The city’s legendary history as a site of human struggle echoes in the cadences of everyday life. Where we stay in Jeppestown, men and women lumber back and forth through the city’s streets carrying the burdens of inequalities in their large plastic sacks packed with used boxes and plastic bottles or in carts stuffed with fresh bananas, pineapples, and oranges. Elsewhere I’ve seen the tallest walls fortified with barbed stakes and guards with guns that corral most of the wealth in the verdant north of the city—whose privileged vistas gaze down upon brown carpets of makeshift shacks stacked side by side.
One friend told me that the day after Apartheid ended long entrenched behaviors of white South Africans changed instantly as if eighty years of disdain and disenfranchisement had never happened. “It was like they had forgotten that yesterday they hated me,” he remembered. While another friend told me that too little had changed and that the economic regime of neo-liberalism championed by the multicultural powers-that-be have simply re-cast the spatialized economic segregation of apartheid under the supposedly surmountable guise class of difference. “Black woman you work hard, no harder, no hardest! And you too can share in the future bounty of our soon to be prosperous nation!” She’s not buying (literally) any of it.
Almost twenty years after the end of Apartheid, the sharp contrasts remain and divide. Stark differences in black, brown, and white come into focus under masana’s winter light.