We’re trying very hard to get locals to come and experience these areas too because we believe it’s invaluable for them to see the complexities of Johannesburg, one they won’t see in the pre-conceived bubbles they live in.
-Michael Luptak, Co-founder of Dlala Nje
For those just tuning in, I’ve spent my past two months investigating how large water projects in South Africa, like dams and canals, have impacted communities and individuals. My first few weeks here were a mix of poring over academic papers, talking to experts and narrowing my itinerary to a few key communities. More recently, I’ve begun taking road trips to towns around Johannesburg which have some relationship to the Vaal River.
The Vaal is vitally important to South Africa’s economic output – it supplies municipal and industrial water to the greater Johannesburg metro area, and is a tributary of the mighty Orange River. In one small town I visited, I recorded stories from farmers, museum curators, shop owners, whitewater rafters and agronomists about how their lives were shaped by the river. For some residents, the Vaal represented an everyday symbol of apartheid, a literal barrier between two separate, unequal existences. For others, the river remains a nourishing source for crops and a keystone supporting a burgeoning tourism industry.
I’ll get to those stories in a future update, but as promised in my previous post, here’s Part Two of my series on how a few entrepreneurs are challenging perceptions in Johannesburg. This story takes place in the Hillbrow neighborhood of Joburg, specifically in Ponte City, a towering residential building. I’ll let the podcast take it from here.
Ishan Thakore, a multimedia storyteller and journalist, is creating a series of short films to portray a nuanced portrait of the human benefits as well as the costs of large-scale water development in South Africa. Follow him here on the Voices blog, on Twitter and on Instagram.