Venice Of The South

June 30 2021, 0 Comments

In Portrait with Keys, Ivan Vladislavic describes Johannesburg drily as ‘the Venice of the South’, because ‘the backdrop is always a man-made one.

We have planted a forest the birds endorse. For hills, we have mine dumps covered with grass. We do not wait for time and the elements to weather us, we change the scenery ourselves, to suit our moods. Nature is for other people, in other places.’

‘Nature’ was actually imported into the Highveld. There were almost no trees on the grasslands of the Witwatersrand, and Johannesburg’s developers realised that if their upper-end real estate was going to be attractive to foreign investors, it needed to be shaded. And so, when they planted the Sachsenwald Forest on the northern slopes of Parktown Ridge to provide pit-props for the mines, they decided to multi-purpose the trees to provide shade for the settlers and to reduce the dust of the veld and of the mining activities. The project succeeded. Look at Johannesburg’s northern suburbs from the top of one of the ridges, ...or from the sky or the Google Earth view, and you will see a vast forest that the birds have indeed endorsed; the largest man-made urban woodland in the world, according to the city’s publicity shtick: plane and oaks, blue gums and jacarandas, immigrants all.


An excerpt from I Love You I Hate You by Mark Gevisser. For the rest of this piece as well as others like this, get the book.

Mark Gevisser was born in Johannesburg in 1964, and lived here until he was 40. Although he shamefully now resides in Kalk Bay, Cape Town, Johannesburg will always be his first home, a place about which he has made films and historical exhibitions. A well-known author, his books include Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (2007), Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa (1994) and Lost and Found in Johannesburg (2014). His upcoming book is The Pink Line: The World’s Queer Frontiers. Venice of the South is an extract from Mark’s book, Lost and Found in Johannesburg (2014).