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Publication Details

Bond, Patrick (2007) The Heart of Global Apartheid: ‘Joburg’. Conference: Local Racism, Global Apartheid : 1-23.

Introduction: What’s in a name
Johannesburg is the ideal setting for the film Tsotsi, meaning ‘gangster’. Based on a 1960 novel by Athol Fugard about lumpenproletarian redemption, the story was brought up to date with ‘tsotsi-taal’ (a mixed language favoured by young toughs), given edge through local rap-like music (‘kwaito’), and in 2006 awarded the Oscar for best foreign-language film. Set mainly in a smoke-choked Soweto neighbourhood, director Gavin Hood’s dark version of post-apartheid deracialization reaches its audience via a wealthy black professional family, repeatedly robbed notwithstanding a high-tech security apparatus in their house in the formerly white suburbs, while a Sotho-speaking Afrikaner (the only white in the film) leads the police investigation. These twists are neither impossible nor typical in today’s Johannesburg. But they are distractions, because the film leaves intact a core message drilled through contemporary culture about success, namely how important it is to escape the township. Tsotsi’s Soweto is characterized by tiny tin shacks on dirt roads; informal pubs run with an iron fist by a ‘shebeen queen’; dice-gambling entertainment; car batteries serving as electricity sources – for those who haven’t hooked up illegally; communal taps with long queues providing a modicum of water for women to carry home; homeless children surviving in stacked concrete piping; unemployed young adults without hope; crime-ridden trains; domestic strife and wife-beatings; endemic disease; often gratuitous violence.

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