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It may look cool, but graffiti is costing Wits University tens of thousands of rands every year.
The removal of graffiti cost the university R88 000 in 2011, up from R38 000 the previous year.
According to Grounds Manager Andries Norval, American films glamorising graffiti have influenced Wits students.
Norval said it is easy to paint over graffiti on a white wall. But with a lot of Wits buildings, the colour is in the plaster, so painting doesn’t work and the patchwork can always be seen.
“You can sandblast if off… using sand that is sprayed under pressure…but if you do it on surfaces like wood and marble, you actually damage the building.”
“Proper graffiti is a work of art.”
Norval made a distinction betweengraffiti and “the squiggles they call tagging”.
“Proper graffiti is a work of art. If it’s done with the proper permission and in the right places, I’ve got no problem with it.”
He pointed out that Wits has a few designated graffiti zones, such as the pedestrian tunnel between East and West Campus, where students can paint without consequences as long as the material is not offensive to anyone.
Clarifying what is and is not allowed, Norval said: “Definitely not political. Definitely not religious. And definitely not contentious.”
Vuvuzela asked Norval what he would say to taggers who argue that the university is curtailing their freedom of expression by restricting them to designated areas.
He replied: “Ask him: if I paint on his car that is parked in a public space…would he like that? Yes or no? And does he not think this money could be better spent on better teaching facilities or fixing lecture venues or even library books?”
Campus Control officer Aaron Ngcongolo agreed: “It’s not good, because this thing is making the place untidy.”
Sharni Hart, an honours marketing student, said: “It’s a campus and it should be kept neat and clean. You can express yourself in another way. You don’t need to write all over campus.”
Several students expressed their appreciation for the graffiti in the designated zones.
As he walked past the colourful murals in the pedestrian tunnel connecting East and West Campus, 1st year economic science student Tarrin Skeepers said: “This is one of my favourite spots at Wits. Period. Because I just love the artwork. I just love the creativity.”
Ngoni Goba, a 1st year LLB student said: “It gives the university a youthful feel.”
Norval could not speak about the situation at other universities in South Africa, except to say that he visited the Soweto Campus of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and saw no graffiti there. The UJ officials he spoke to told them that they do not have a problem with graffiti.
- An American university also faces high graffiti removal costs
- An Australian city’s art programme to prevent graffiti
- Aghan artists use graffiti to fight war and oppression
- A South African graffiti artist moves from walls to high-end galleries
See more graffiti from the Braamfontein area of Johannesburg