Joburg’s tree hugging façade
Written by: Tunicia Phillips
There’s a new frenzy prancing around in Johannesburg- and maybe it’s not new, just annoyingly obvious these days.
For the longest time I’ve watched the bohemian tree hugging crowds move around Jozi on their bicycles, always grouped in Melville, Greenside and the CBD – carefree and dressed for the occasion. They seem to be the “we bring Cape Town’s vibe to Egoli” kind of people. Conversations with the pro- green crowds activating against genetically modified foods and supporting local organic markets are some of the most interesting you may have. Their ideals are somewhat predictable, but almost always informative and inspiring. The only danger with these trendy attitudes is that trends are just that, trends. Their lifespans are short, and nobody that ever followed a trend did it for any practical reason beside the social approval that follows it.
So I’ve concluded that the pro-organic, natural living, tree hugging and conscious (you know what I mean) culture that is engulfing the ‘artsy fartsy’ corners of the city, are by too many accounts a functionless hype.
All the pro- earth, pro-sustainability and pro-developmental ideals attributed to the life of a tree hugger is functionally a drive towards access and education for those who are less driven to live healthier and eat better. It is the poorest of the poor that can benefit from healthier locally produced food and products. The only challenge is that as soon as something starts trending, it soon develops a price tag, and an experience that you certainly will pay for.
This is why organic food and the likes of most of Johannesburg’s healthy, organic food markets is increasingly becoming an elitist thing, darkened by status and money that are only but luxury to the majority of the city’s poor. This became vividly (and sadly) obvious to me this weekend when I volunteered at the launch of the 99% Local Festival in Bezuidenhout. The launch at skills village was every 21 century hippie’s dream; affordable quality food, local music and performances, local craft drinks and all sorts of vegan alternatives were served. Even the entertainment provided for educational and informative themes around green living.
The point was to provide the local community and the city with a direct link to organic suppliers, alternative currencies in the form of bartering and to encourage discussions on climate change and sustainable development spearheaded by young people. With the increasing amount of tree huggers lurking around the city, of course it would be well supported? No.
People stick to what they know and see, and so they stayed around Maboneng Precinct and Neighbourgoods Markets– the new capital of elitist life masquerading as earth child. They stuck to overpriced organic food, overpriced art and ridiculously priced clothing. Why? Because the functional aspect of these ideals is almost non- existent; it exists in a trend vacuum that has no room for practicality. I have to say that while I am not surprised, it is appalling to witness how great ideals are increasingly reduced to a substance-less hype. This does not mean that the cities, ‘artsy fartsy’ markets and affairs do not have good social agendas. It means that their agenda, like everything else that sells, is now nothing but a quick experience. How will we become sustainable and provide alternatives to organic accessibility? How will we educate the poor and working class on healthy living and earth saving agendas if the very experience has become a commodity?
We have effectively turned all attempts to provide the Woolies alternative into a sold campaign. This campaign keeps health, education, arts and sustainability only in the hands of the social elite. It reminds us why the claws of inequality hide behind subtle social trends that are almost always cleverly disguised as ‘lifestyle’.