Wits City Institute Seminar Report

Making Maps: Affinities of Space in Johannesburg

Wits City Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Jill Weintroub reports on her Life in the City research project at the first Wits City Institute seminar of 2018. Weintroub’s project, provisionally titled JoziQuest, seeks to build a digital mapping site aimed at making visible the spatial histories and cultural memories attached to sites in Johannesburg, selected for their links to Hermann Kallenbach and Mohandas Gandhi.

16 March 2018 / Anthropology Museum, Robert Sobukwe Block, University of the Witwatersrand

Chair: Noëleen Murray

Presenter: Jill Weintroub

Discussant: Tanya Zack

Tanya Zack in her insightful discussion at the seminar, characterises JoziQuest as a project about ‘finding a way of mapping that is not dictated by hegemonic power’, that is about constructing a ‘postcolonial or multi-sensory way of seeing’, a way of elevating what is ‘less obvious’. As Zack pointed out, all of the Gandhi/Kallenbach sites are caught up in changing urban development. The Kraal and Tolstoy Farm were once rural retreats. The Kraal is now in the midst of bustling commercial and residential development, yet Tolstoy Farm seems to remain something of a ‘void’, a piece of ‘leftover land’, despite being surrounded at some distance by the suburban encroachment of the apartheid-planned racially separated towns of Lenasia and Soweto, and the shack settlements of Lawley.

In reflecting on Zack’s discussion, I consider also points raised in questions from the floor in relation to the idea of walking and mobility. Both Gandhi and Kallenbach regularly walked between the farm and Johannesburg – this is well documented and marked by the Gandhi Walk, an annual event located in Lenasia that memorialises Gandhi’s particular contribution to immigrant Indian communities emerging in Johannesburg at the time, while Kallenbach’s contribution is not always recognised. This eclipsing or overshadowing was a feature of Gandhi and Kallenbach’s resistance campaign in South Africa. As Zack pointed out, the satyagraha campaigns, like the communal ‘experiment’ at Tolstoy Farm, were in many ways enclaves of resistance surrounded by, yet separated from, parallel political struggles involving other groups of southern African people. Gandhi and Kallenbach orchestrated their campaigns in the midst of a larger socio-political context in which migrant labourers across southern Africa were coerced by the requirements of the emerging mining industry to sell their labour in cities, and Johannesburg’s goldmines in particular. At the same time, there was the forced movement of tenant farmers and their families who were displaced by the 1913 Land Act. All of this was well ahead of the apartheid spatial engineering project that saw the establishment of racially segregated suburban areas such as Soweto, Eldorado Park, and Lenasia in the vicinity of Lawley in the 1950s.

Walking, therefore, has a history and becomes a lens through which to view spatialities, especially in South Africa, and more broadly, for tying Gandhi and Kallenbach to Walter Benjamin. The American essayist, cultural historian, and spatial activist Rebecca Solnit deals lyrically with Benjamin’s love affair with rambling the streets of Paris in her book Wanderlust, A History of Walking (2002:198). Solnit suggests that the form and content of Benjamin’s writings in Arcades mirrors the paths of his wanderings through Paris and reflects the idea of the kaleidoscope. As ‘a historian, a theorist, a lyrical writer,’ he ‘created work as uncategorisable as it is influential,’ she writes (2004). ‘He devoted himself to elucidating the meaning of Paris, labyrinths, cities, walks – exploring a series of ideas that spiral around, double back, open into each other, metamorphose and make endless connections, a map of the world drawn as much by poetic intuition as by rational analysis.’ I find the idea of the kaleidoscope enticing as a way of thinking about mapping as a process, especially as an alternative to the notion of the palimpsest that is often brought to bear in relation to memory and mapping projects.

This thinking around spatialities, Johannesburg, and JoziQuest, draws on some decades of immersion in a rather different scholarly milieu, including a longstanding involvement in the Bleek and Lloyd collection, and in particular, the documents relating to Dorothea Bleek, who is the topic of my PhD and subsequent biography, as well as interests in Heritage and Museum Studies, archives, post-colonialism and transdisciplinary work.


Benjamin, Walter. 1999. The Arcades Project. Transl. H. Eiland and K. McLaughlin. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In Clifford Geertz. The Interpretation of Cultures, 3-30. London: Hutchinson.

Solnit, Rebecca. 2004. Hatred at one end, Rejection at the Other. Los Angeles Times.

Solnit, Rebecca. 2002. Wanderlust, A History of Walking. London: Verso.

Weintroub, Jill. 2016. Dorothea Bleek: A Life of Scholarship. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.