Johannesburg is a place where people aspire to be something different and dream of what they could be or could have been, said author Mark Gevisser.
“[It] is a city of diversity, dreams and difference,” said Gevisser at his book launch on Tuesday evening at the Wits Art Museum (WAM).
The author and former journalist, best known for his biography on Thabo Mbeki, was hosted by WAM and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) on the first leg of his tour for his new book Lost and Found in Johannesburg.
Gevisser said WAM was an example of “psychic geography” because of its location “on the threshold of Johannesburg” between the suburbs and the city centre.
“[WAM] is a place where you can rub up and contemplate each other across glass, class and race,” he said.
Gevisser said that during the previous book launch in 2008 for his Mbeki biography, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, South Africa was on the verge of change after the former president was ousted from his position by the ANC.
“We are once again on the edge, on a threshold because of the impending elections.”
As part of the book launch, Gevisser was interviewed by City Press editor Ferial Haffajee. In answer to a question from her, he said that he wrote the first part of Lost and Found in Johannesburg as a way of inventing new modes of being in touch across class and race barriers that still exist in the city today.
“We must not wait for times and elements to connect with other people or with other places,” Gevisser said.
The second part of Gevisser’s book was written to convey his experience as one of many victims of crime in Johannesburg, a city created by a gold rush—and the greed and vice that came with that—in the late 19th century.
Gevisser said that he and his friends had been the victim of a home invasion that left them physically beaten and one of them raped leaving them “emotionally scarred”. He described writing about this attack as “making order out of chaos”.
But instead of fleeing South Africa out of fear, he decided to go to Alexandra township – one of the “main frontiers” of Johannesburg where crime and poverty are rife.
“It was my way of forcing myself to re-engage instead of retreating,” Gevisser said.
As the discussion ended Gevisser reminded his audience that Johannesburg is an “Afropolitan City”.
“Johannesburg is a city of threshold, a city of doors and there are always gates to climb.”