I grew up in Katlehong and went to St Catherine’s Convent School in Germiston. Germiston is not a fancy area – it’s basically middle-class – but every day on the drive to and from school, I would notice the difference between those two environments.
That was in the 80s, with all the political unrest and state of emergency, so it was a very difficult time and space to make sense of – especially as a child.
Also, I grew up in a house with a lot of art and music, but I never saw that beauty reflected in Katlehong. I could never make sense of my built environment.
Every day being bussed to and from school, we would drive across these large tracts of empty land and over bridges, which were essentially created as buffer zones by the apartheid government. It was a journey I could never understand. And when you drive that journey every day, it leaves an impression on you. It shapes you.
People tend to think that one wants to become an architect after seeing some spectacular structure or building and wanting to design some amazing, iconic building. But my journey to becoming an architect was different. The thing that drew me to it was living in a segregated environment – one that was designed for the subjugation of black people. I wanted to create environments that are enabling for communities.
A lot of South African cities and towns have not managed to overcome spatial apartheid, but, you know, when I do that drive from Katlehong to Germiston today, instead of only seeing those empty tracts of land, I see a lot of micro-industries popping up. So, I’ve started seeing townships as spaces where people are creating opportunity; that – as opposed to this colonial idea of what a city is – townships are actually cities. And they’re flippin’ sexy.
Mpho Matsipa, 40, as told to Carl Collison, the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail Guardian