Perceptions of graffiti in Johannesburg range from it being beautiful artworks to malicious damage of property. Removal of graffiti is a difficult process and where to draw the line between vandalism and art is often difficult to find.
STREET ART: Graffiti on the corner of Henry and De Korte street, Braamfontein done by graffiti artist Rasty and crew. Photo: Samantha Camara
Hanre Heunis spends his time removing graffiti from other people’s property. The managing director of a local graffiti removal service, Heunis believes there is an artistic side to the practice of street art. He says many property owners think that graffiti is vandalism because they did not choose to have their walls defaced or tagged (when a new graffiti artist spray-paints their name on a wall to practice and develop their own style).
Property owners who have been the victims of repeated tagging often remove the tags because it makes their business premises look unprofessional or decreases the value of the property. “There is a fine line between being artistic and repeat tagging,” said Heunis.
There is a high concentration of graffiti in the inner city and removing it is a highly-skilled, specialised and expensive process, says Heunis. It involves chemical testing, high pressure water tanks and newly developed products that often need to be imported from the United Kingdom due to a lack of local manufacturing. Removal is also extremely labour intensive as more porous surfaces require more applications.
But perceptions are shifting especially when artists ask for permission, according to Vorster, an ex-Witsie who did his honours in Fine Arts. “If you wake up in the morning and someone’s tagged your window it sucks … get permission and do your art … you’ll be surprised how many people say yes.”
Graffiti artists find it exciting to work illicitly at night but it often means that the quality of the work decreases because there is less time and more pressure to get the work done in a short amount of time, according to Vorster.
The other side of the (street art) coin
ADDING COLOUR: Comic style graffiti done by American graffiti artist, Pose in De Korte street, Braamfontein. Photo: Samantha Camara
In Johannesburg there are a few designated walls for street art on Barry Hertzog Avenue and Empire Road but Brian* says these walls are mostly used for graffiti style advertising and the limited amount of wall space restricts the art.
One of Vorster’s first tags was a Vodacom telephone box, he saw it as a victory when the box was removed. Vorster now gets permission for his work and is often commissioned to do murals. One of his commissioned pieces was removed for safety reasons because people were constantly taking photos at the wall, which made the owner feel unsafe.
Brian* says he doesn’t mind his art being removed: “It [the art] has its lifespan. It doesn’t faze me, I just need to do more. For every one that is taken down, I need to put up another one.”
*Names have been changed.
Statements were found spray-painted on the Wits Great Hall stairs on Friday morning.
Photo: Luke Matthews
CORRECTION: The article originally omitted the word “building” giving the impression that Umthombo is a student residence. Additionally, the term “racial statements” in the photo caption has been changed to “statements”.
“Black power, Biko lives” and “fuck white racism” were the words that greeted Witsies as they approached the Great Hall this morning.
The graffiti appeared overnight, sprayed in black paint, on the steps of Wits’ most iconic building.
Student residences Sunnyside, Mens Res and the Umthombo building were also targeted in separate but apparently related incidents. The graffiti appeared to favour the renaming of buildings on campus. Mens Res residents found their building sprayed with “Robert Sobukwe Hall” while students at Sunnyside res found their res had been “renamed” after Winnie Madikizela.
Susan Laname, a Sunnyside resident, claimed that the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) may be responsible for the tagging of the buildings as the renaming of campus buildings was part of their election campaign.
Other buildings vandalised were Umthombo, Mens res and Sunnyside res.
Photo: Luke Matthews
EFF chairman Vuyani Pambo confirmed members of his organisation were not involved in the spraying of the graffiti, saying he had only found out about it through social networks.
“We are not responsible for the tagging, we engage the university directly as we did about our campaign, he added.
“I, for one, think it’s telling, maybe the pressure the students are feeling, and this is one way in which they are finding expression,” said Pambo.
Wits Campus Control say they have no strong leads and little evidence as to the guilty parties.
“So far we have received the complaint and we have seen the graffiti and we are taking it very serious and we are doing own investigation,” said Lucky Khumela, Campus Control’s security and liaison manager .
Wits Sports Administration (WSA) has spent over an estimated R1 million in the last three months on repairing sports facilities, allegedly vandalised and abused by Wits students, on all Wits campuses.
While the issue has been ongoing for some time, the WSA is now struggling with a lack of finances to pay for on-going repairs.
“Sports admin simply does not have the budget to repair as well maintain all of Wits’ sport facilities. And over the years the sports budget has decreased,” said Vardhan.
The Vuvuzela was told that it costs WSA R300 000 to repair a single tennis court and that to replace damaged or broken tennis court fences will cost R80 000.
WSA, according to Vardhan, generates no profit and on some occasions have to get assistance from PIMD.
When asked by Vuvuzela if WSA was doing anything to improve security around the sports facilities Vardhan replied that locks are put on the facilities gates but they are either cut or damaged.
“Security is an issue and we at WSA have to constantly remind campus security to watch the students during major sports events as well as over the weekend and Friday afternoons.”
Vuvuzela observed that the service delivery gate to the west and east campus gyms have been left open since February and Wits students constantly “hang out” on the cricket pitch.
“Students have no respect for Wits sports property, they cut holes in the tennis fences and run across the cricket pitch in soccer boots,” said Vardhan.
WSA plans to generate enough funding to establish a mobile security team to monitor all of Wits’ sports facilities.
In addition to vandalising sports facilities WSA staff have also observed students vandalising sports ablutions facilities.
The walking of pets on the sports fields and the failure to clean up after them has also become an issue that has been largely publicised.
FREE FOR ALL: A lack of security is largely to blame for damage to majority of Wits' sports facilities. Photo by Akinoluwa Oyedele.