2nd Floor, 138 Jan Smuts Avenue Parkwood Johannesburg South Africa, 2000

Johannesburg: 26.1497° S, 28.0342° E London: 51.5072° N, 0.1276°

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التربة At-turab soil, ground, earth, dust, land

Date: 2021 ---------------- I ingest all of humanity collectively. So much so, that the only way to tear you from my veins, to stop you from coursing through my every cell, and then exhaling a piece of you back for the world to love,

is to so forcefully isolate.

Date: 1760–1884 ------------------------ Material composition: large amounts of toxic sulfurised gases such as SO2, H2S, CS2

Ruskin suggested that the atmosphere, dust and clouds are evidence and archive of history, class struggle, practices of labour and exploitation, as well as the interconnectedness of these factors. He understood the weather as inhumane and talked about anthropogenic climate change: a novel, well-nigh unthinkable phenomenon, produced by the age of industry but approachable only in the language of myth.

There is a violence in breathing, in parts of Joburg.

There is a violence in breathing, in parts of Joburg.

Date: 2 billion years ago ------------------------------------ Material composition: gold (Au found in quartzite and pyrite ore) with specific gravity of 19.3

A meteor strike to the Earth’s crust drove the gold to the Earth’s surface in Joburg.

Date: 1886 ---------------- Material composition: gold (Au found in quartzite and pyrite ore) with specific gravity of 19.3

Gold is discovered in Johannesburg. A connection to deep time is brought to the surface. Black labour forces are brought in from all over the country to mine the land. Deaths on the mines through silicosis, tuberculosis and other forms of lung disease are common.

Date: 1923 ----------------

Material composition: uranium, mercury, radon, arsenic and sulfuric acid

The Natives (Urban Areas) Act legislated on a broad front to regulate the presence of Africans in urban areas. It gave local authorities the power to demarcate and establish African locations on the outskirts of white urban and industrial areas, and to determine access to, and funding of, these areas. This sedimented in legislation and planning that Black people would live next to toxic areas – mine dumps and industrial buffer zones in Joburg. On windy days some townships are covered in yellow dust. Asthmatic complications and tuberculosis cases rise. Buffer zones for whites were zoos, parks and trees.

Date: 2002 ----------------

Material composition: forensic studies show dust particles made up of soil, skin, flesh, glass, cocaine, brick, concrete, cyanide

Eyal Weizman described an anecdote from one of his colleagues in Palestine: ‘His neighbourhood was turning to dust. He was coughing and he was saying, “I am breathing my house”. He was literally breathing in his house, his street, his ground, his family.’

Clouds include everything pulverised by a bomb where a building once was.

There is an extreme violence in breathing, in parts of Joburg.

There is an extreme violence in breathing, in parts of Joburg.

Date: 2010 ----------------

Material composition: hydroxyapatite stained blue by nickel and pyrites

In October 2010, security guards at Langlaagte mine dump noticed human bones sticking out of the ground at one of the mine dumps on site: 650 unmarked graves were discovered. Most of the remains found were believed to be those of adult African males. At least two sets of remains found were possibly of Asian (Chinese) origin. Thousands of Chinese mine workers were brought to work in South African mines after the Anglo-Boer War. ‘Many died and were buried on the mines at the time.’

Chinese porcelain plates and cups from the late 19th century were also found. ‘It was difficult to determine from the remains, but historical information tells of meningitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, influenza and mining-related accidents.’ Questions have emerged why this cemetery, which was one of the largest in the city between 1890 and 1920, was completely undocumented. ‘It seems as if the cemetery was long forgotten after its use and was covered by a mine dump later. The erosion of the mine dump is bringing its history to the surface.’

Date: 2019 ----------------

Material composition: Na2O (0.18%), MgO (0.63%), Al2O3 (6.51%), SiO2 (81.83%), P2O5 (0.04%), SO3 (3.40%), K2O (1.98%), CaO (0.45%), TiO2 (0.51%), Cr2O3 (0.17%), MnO (0.04%), Fe2O3 (3.59%), NiO (0.04%), As2O3 (0.02%)

The leftovers of the start-of-the-city are a completely expansive set of tunnels, arguably taking up more volume than the city itself, but largely forgotten, eroded out of sight, shrouded by edifices, highways and Highveld grasses. The mountains of incandescent mine waste are monumental (but eroding) in areas along the gold reef: mass-scale architectures when seen from the air in relation to the built form of the city.

But a zoom-in of the dust mountains reveals new networks of activities. They have found new inhabitants among the most vulnerable in the city; a reminder that the gold that built the city still augurs desperation. Though these are man-made mountains, they have become entangled in natural processes. The highly toxic chemical saps seep from below and often surface as iron red and cobalt blue rivers. Grasses and foliage – some planted during the mining age to contain the dust, others planted more recently in attempts to remediate the soils – are sprawling and uninhibited. The mine dump’s almost unearthly, luminescent yellow structure is interrupted by smaller topographies of crevices and walls, slowly printed into a geology by an accelerated settling of the blasted rock with the poisonous by-products of the explosives. The invisible code for composing this landscape came from abrasive industrial processes decades ago; their implications are still producing this landscape. Clues are often testimony of toxic activity, even when the prior use is disguised or the site reconfigured.

Being on the mine dump feels like being in a scene from a sci-fi film. Perhaps it is this otherworldliness and seclusion from the city that attracts ritual activity. The Masowe churches often use the mine dumps as sites of ritual sermon and ceremonial prayer. An exercise in place-making: the process of preparing the space for ritual prayer.

1) Chase former evil dwellers. 2) Remove dirt. 3) Dig a hole, place salt in it. 4) Add a sheep’s tail to the hole, if available. Sheep tails act as good amulets against witchcraft. 5) Cover the hole with soil. 6) Draw a circle of hot ashes within the limit of the cleared space. 7) Have three priests gather around it with a bucket of water in the middle. 8) Mix coarse salt in the water. 9) Pray over the water, simultaneously sprinkling it around.

At several speeds, the mine dumps are holding and carrying remnants of current clandestine religious, economic and recreational practices: illegal mining, ritual slaughter, informal trade, housing, sandboarding, church gatherings. At other speeds, they are eroding and revealing historical artefacts: bones of enslaved bodies, porcelain plates, the original glass from Joburg buildings and the Joburg water company.

As we breathe in Joburg, we are literally ingesting past legacies, histories and environments. We are breathing in the remains of exploitation of the Earth and our ancestors.

الضربة At-turbah soil, ground, earth, dust

كُلُّهُمْ‭ ‬بَنُو‭ ‬آدَمَ‭ ‬وَآدَمُ‭ ‬خُلِقَ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬تُرَابٍ Kullukum li Adam wa aadam min turab Everyone is from Adam and Adam is from dust

Is there anything more violent than separating bodies from the earth that they belong to, that became so physiologically part of them, through centuries of breath? Is there anything more violent than exploiting and contaminating this ground, and those who work it and then allowing it to be breathed in again in its dust form?

8th June 2021 Architectural Review Ingesting architectures: the violence of breathing in parts of Joburg by Sumayya Vally