Sisyphus in Johannesburg

12 Dec

Sisyphus in Newtown

In the myth of Sisyphus, a king is punished for his arrogance and trickery by being made to push a boulder up to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom, where he has to start all over again – for all eternity.

I see reminders of Sisyphus all the time in Johannesburg now – perhaps Camus would recognize them –  the men who collect vast trolley loads of scrap paper and cardboard and push, pull and roll them all over the city, often presenting terrifying traffic hazards. I never use the left hand lane to drive up the hill on Jan Smuts Avenue heading south just after crossing Empire because it’s too dangerous. The other day, I had to swerve for one of these guys dragging his load along the fast lane on William Nicol, where cars frequently travel well over the speed limit of 80kph.

They have become one of the most distinctive sights in the city. How more of them are not written off when Joburg motorists are hardly known for being careful or considerate is beyond me.

I cannot imagine how these people keep going. Physically, it must be backbreaking, and the rewards are small. In light of what they go through, to say that the Sisyphus myth resonates with me because sometimes that’s how I feel, is rather trite. But it has inspired art. One of the paintings in my solo exhibition was titled Sisyphus in Johannesburg – I sold the work to Louise Ferreira who writes for Beeld. (Sadly I can’t show it to you because I’ve managed to lose any photos I took of it – the version here was painted today.

Sisyphus in Joburg


One Response to “Sisyphus in Johannesburg”

  1. Mary Carminati April 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    This has really inspired me. I was driving home from work today, and saw a man, well half of a man begging at a robot on Oxford Road. He literally did not have the bottom part of his body, unless I saw wrong, but it looked like his body ended just below his waist. People in their cars drove on as usual, as if no one was there, just ignoring this man who clearly needs help. I burst into tears, I cant believe that this suffering is taking place while people dont seem to care. Its heart-breaking. Im not sure as to what I can do to help this man, and many other beggers at robots, but I feel that I need to. So as I got home, I got onto the internet and came accross your webpage. Most people dont like giving money as they are afraid that it will be used to buy alcohol etc… Are there any charities or organisations who help these beggers? Tomorrow, I will try help this man on Oxford Road with food, but it just feels like something bigger needs to take place. I mean, i kept thinking that to be in this condition, having no legs, it must hurt so much on the hard hot tar… Devastating to see

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