BJ Engelbrecht

I am an artist and academic whose main creative and theoretical interest is in sound and its relationship to time and space, particularly within the complex urban environment of Johannesburg.

Listen, Read

Gandhi’s Ears

A shadow from the surrounding buildings cast itself over most of the square. I walked past the ticket office on my right towards the seating around the base of the statue of Gandhi. I greeted an old man sat alone. He wore a blue golf shirt and chinos and kept the rest of his belongings in one of those plastic potato sacks. We soon struck up a conversation…

Adam: You know, this case is very simple neh? Now I actually checked there by the station neh? There was something about depression. So they want the cause of depression. So my father got divorced when he was forty years old. So I was never healed, I didn’t get any counselling. I tried to work out myself, work out myself, work out myself, work out myself. Last year, Somebody came and knocked by my door. They said, “We must come and fetch you”. But these people, all the time they knew where I was staying but they-they never told me to make contact with my father. Hawu! When the preacher talks there, now he tells me that your father was married. I thought it was a grudge, but I understand that he was only preaching. Unknown to him unknown to me. You see? But the whole thing blew. It was fok-fok, fok-fok. Then they said something that I didn’t want the money. Which money is it? I know nothing about the money. You see? You see? I know nothing about the money, I was staying there for years and years and years. So…Those people that were jealous, that’s what they were waiting for in fact. They didn’t want the money to come into these hands. So, they celebrated that I don’t want the money. 

BJ: Yeah, it’s better that you make a plan

Adam: Ya neh! I tried to get the relevant papers, but I cannot

BJ: They’ll help you. Even if they can’t they’ll send you to the right place. But their job is to help angithi? 

Adam: Ya…sure. Put me in the right direction. 

BJ: It’s better that we try to help each other. You see, here in Jozi, people don’t like helping each other. It’s like there is no community here.

Adam: Yeah!! I just read what this guy was saying neh! “I was with my countrymen in a hopeless minority”. You see you are talking right with his words

BJ: Yeah?

Adam: Yabon’?

BJ: Hm

Adam: Ya you’re talking right in his words. I think this is the thirds day I came here. “I was with my countrymen in a hopeless minority”. 

An elderly white man approached us. He clutched a disheveled notebook in his left hand while at the same time wrapping his fingers around the strap of an old bag….

BJ: Hi

Elderly man: How are you?

BJ: I’m good and you?

Elderly man: Very well

Adam: How are you? 

Elderly man: Very well….

Elderly man: In those days they called him a coolie.

Adam: Hm?

Elderly man: In those days they called him a coolie. 

Adam: aaaaaai, this guy?

Elderly man: This guy was a clever guy. 

Adam: Exactly

Elderly man: You know what happened?

Adam: What happened?

Elderly man: He was locked up in prison quite a few times. He was chucked out of the train. And he made the sandals for general Smuts. Smuts gave it back to him. You know what he said to him? “I’m not worthy to wear the sandals of a great man” He was a lawyer, Mandela was a lawyer, De Klerk was a lawyer. He had an office somewhere around here. 

Adam: Yes yes yes! Here in Johannesburg, around here.

Elderly man: Ya around here. And Mandela’s office is down there – opposite de Korte, Even Oliver Tambo. And his house is around the corner from me. 

Adam: Where?

Elderly man: In Troyeville. It’s like a double story in North street. I think he started taking donations later on and then he went back to India and then they assassinated him. And he and he also fought in the Boer war…I don’t know what you call that (pointing at the sign) 

Adam: It’s racism 

Elderly man: th-thank-you…


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