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THE City of Joburg is calling on its residents to report graffiti at key sites, especially heritage buildings, and the City will make an effort to have it removed.

Colourful detail of two columns under the M1 freeway in NewtownColourful detail of two columns under the M1 freeway in NewtownEric Itzkin, the deputy director of immovable heritage in Joburg’s arts, culture and heritage department, says the City is keen to remove “unsightly tagging”, which is a nuisance and is usually done without the permission of the owner of the walls or buildings. “We make it a condition that street art should only be done with the owner’s permission.”

Joburg has a Public Art Policy that is not against tasteful public art, but it does state that that major landmarks and declared heritage sites should be kept clear of unwanted graffiti.

“We recognise that high-end mural art can be a positive force for artistic expression. It can help enliven the urban environment and contribute to urban regeneration,” explains Itzkin. “Some fine graffiti-style art has been commissioned by the City, for example the fantasy imagery by Rasty and crew on the north side of Pieter Roos Park.”

Rasty is the tag name of one of the city’s most well-known graffiti artists. He has an exhibition space called Grayscale Gallery in Braamfontein, and recently organised Joburg’s second street art and graffiti festival, the City of Gold Festival, which ran for a week in the CBD.

Curio, his colleague, says the festival was successful, with artists from Spain, Germany and the UK attending. The festival included tours, film screenings, exhibitions, and of course, painting of walls – the visiting artists left their marks on the inner city.

“This is such a big city, the canvas is so vast,” says Curio, adding that he and his colleagues have brightened the walls in run-down areas, in this way helping to uplift them. Permission is always obtained for artwork, he confirms.

While graffiti is as old as humanity itself, contemporary graffiti as art has its origins in the New York subways of the mid-1960s. The original koki pens were soon replaced by cans of spray paint. It took off in South Africa in Cape Town in the mid-1990s, with the rise in popularity of hip-hop. Joburg is now considered the capital of graffiti art in South Africa.

The columns under the M1 freeway in Newtown contain spectacular graffiti art, all produced with the permission of the City. Troyeville, Bertrams and Yeoville also have splashings of graffiti art.

Traditionally graffiti has been considered a form of vandalism that is expensive to remove, and in some cases, impossible to remove. The squiggles or tags deface buildings, reduce the value of properties, and force owners to spend often large sums to remove them. Rasty says the tags are a way of marking territory, but are also an artist’s way of practising his tag name.

Graffiti removal
Hanre Heunis, the managing director of Graffiti Removal Services, says that graffiti in Joburg is mostly confined to the northern and inner city suburbs. In Durban and Cape Town there are more large-scale graffiti murals; in Joburg it consists mainly of tags, the identification markers of young graffiti artists who are trying out their signatures.

In 2010, Cape Town passed a graffiti by-law, making it a criminal offence to deface and damage property. Heunis says that in Durban, private companies are hired to track down these defacers, and several have been convicted and sent to jail.

“They are damaging property, sometimes beyond repair. They have got to take responsibility,” says Heunis.

He finds that the best approach is to remove the graffiti immediately, as often the artist is simply trying out a “tester tag” on the wall. If it is not removed, he or she takes it as a sign that the wall is available for more graffiti. “It becomes a challenge of wills,” he says, referring to the tussle between the artist and the wall owner.

Spray paint
There are a number of graffiti removal products, ranging in price from R150 to R800 a litre, depending on their effectiveness. Once removed, the company can enter into a “graffiti clear partnership” with the customer, in which all graffiti is cleared as soon as it appears. It is a constant battle as spray paint is becoming more and more resistant to removal, especially those imported from Germany.

Zoleka Ntabeni, the manager of public culture in the arts, culture and heritage department, says that later this year, the City will clear the walls of Museum Africa in Newtown, a particular eyesore. She indicates that it is considering designating walls in the inner city for graffiti artists. “We are considering dedicated walls where artists must respect each other’s art and take turns to produce art on these walls.”

Itzkin says: “But if people tell us about tagging which is found to be offensive or troublesome, this will help inform our efforts.”

Suggestions for places needing such attention can be sent to Zoleka Ntabeni at or on 011 373 7529.

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