We’ve developed a series of urban playscapes for the Johannesburg Housing Company. Makhulong A Matala (Greener Pastures in Sesotho) was established by the JHC to bring a ‘spirit of living in a village’ to uplift the densely populated high-rise buildings sprawling downtown Joburg.
The kids living in these buildings had hallways, stairwells and rooftops to play – neighbours’ gates for climbing bars, bannisters as slides and rooftops for soccer. Tensions grew as frustrated neighbours struggled to find peace after a day’s or, for many tenants, a long night’s work. But there were safety risks as well and when a little boy was electrocuted during rooftop soccer, the JHC moved quickly.
Soon after we were contacted by Makhulong.
The first space we were asked to do was to repurpose one of the buildings’ apartments into a playroom for all the resident children. I joined Colin on the final day of that installation. It was my first visit, but he’d been there all week and the children had come to expect him. There was no need to ring the buzzer on the gate. As we pulled up, he rolled down the car window and said… ‘shhhh listen…’
Immediately we heard the shuffling feet echoing across the halls that escalated into loud drumming down the several flights of stairs. Colin responded with wolf whistles and banging on his hooter and car door. The guard used to this daily ritual, oenned the gate and the children sprinted towards the car to escort us in.
It’s always so deeply gratifying to see again and again someone doing the work they are born to do.
Determinedly, the children carried the oversized equipment up the many flights of stairs that lead to the apartment. Colin set to work laying down the final pieces of the installation and soon we are surrounded by wall to wall equipment, matting, swings and climbing grips going up a mural of a great big Boabab tree painted across the wall providing home and shade to many little creatures. The children were intent on helping but their excitement made for tricky working conditions. It’s a space most of them didn’t know could exist. And as we finalised the last bits and by now the energy had exploded to full capacity, a little boy came up to Colin and tugged on his jeans leg. Being well over 6 feet and with the noise and commotion surrounding us, he came to his knees to listen. The boy said into his ear… ‘yesterday I did dream of this place.’