The opening is no bigger than a manhole. Beyond it lies the under belly of one of the busiest highways in Johannesburg. Thousands of cars rush over it each day, completely oblivious of the secret world beneath them, and contained in the hollow bridge.
Inside the highway, a small group of men and women live discreetly, surfacing to work, wash and cook. When the sun sets, they retreat inside, where candlelight flows through thin partitions separating a motley mix of lives. Posters of FHM models hang on the bare concrete, dusty Persian rugs are rolled out. The highway never sleeps, it rumbles under the river of tyres. Inside it people live.
They are a group of around 20 people, living as a closed-off society. They decide who joins them and who doesn’t – some have lived inside the bridge for 15 years. Some work and others don’t. The police raid them routinely, suspecting them of committing crimes. They wash in the storm water drains and cook over wooden fires. They hail from different countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Kenya, and Malawi – but live as one, surviving in world with little electricity, fresh water or healthcare.
The project forms part of the 2008 Ruth First Journalism Fellowship from Wits University, Johannesburg, South Africa
The work explores the effects of the recent energy crisis on ordinary citizens, in particular on vulnerable communities, and illustrates the impact of energy-related policy decisions and the lack of access to affordable energy resources on South Africans.