White residents fled Johannesburg's inner city in the 1990s. The removal of
the Group Areas Act foreshadowed a flow into the city of black residents and
owners of small businesses seeking opportunities and better lives. Former
denizens looked back in self-righteous justification at a city that was given
over to plunder and mayhem. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, backed up by
eyewitness reports and statistics. Everyone had their horror stories.
In amongst this turmoil existed the tower blocks occupied by tenants who
were holding onto occupancy and managing the buildings in ways of their own
devising. Their story had gone something like this: in the 1990s the owners
absconded, leaving managing agents to retrieve what rents they could. In mos
cases, these agents were corrupt, did not pay the utilities, and disappeared
with the money. These were tidy sums, handed over by poor people who
conscientiously paid up to avoid having to go back where they came
from. The decay of Jo'burg's centre can be ascribed to many factors but
perhaps none more so than the absence of Body Corporates. These had
become relics of a more genteel era; the communal responsibilities
that are contentious in even the most well-heeled blocks were not marked out.
Windows were broken and not repaired. Lifts froze and their shafts became
tips. The relationship between tenants and owners or their agents deteriorated
with disputes over the state of the buildings, and in some cases resulted in
unpaid rents and dues. The buildings started looking like fire hazards, and the
City Council began closing on them for unpaid utilities.
In between the needs of City Council and the aspirations of developers
anticipating the bloom of an African city lies the fate of Jo'burg's residents.
The outcome will decide whether or not Johannesburg
becomes, again, a city of exclusion.
Tillim was born in Johannesburg in 1962 and lives in Cape Town. He started
photographing professionally in 1986, working with the Afrapix collective until
1990. His work as a freelance photographer in South Africa for the local and
foreign media included positions with Reuters between 1986 and 1988, and
Agence France Presse in 1993 and 1994. Tillim has received awards for his
work including the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2005 and the first Robert
Gardner Fellowship in Photography from the Peabody Museum at Harvard
University in 2006. His series Avenue Patrice Lumumba has shown at the
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris; Museu Serralves in Porto;
FOAM,Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam, among many other venues. His
work was included on Documenta 12 in 2007 and the Sao Paulo Bienal in