When Mark Gevisser was a little boy, growing up in a apartheid South Africa, he was obsessed with maps, and with the Holmden’s Registry, Johannesburg’s Street Guide, in particular. He played a game called “Dispatcher” with this eccentric guide, transporting himself across the city into places that would otherwise be forbidden him. It was through “Dispatcher” that he discovered apartheid, by realising that he could not find an access route to the neighbouring township of Alexandra, and later, by realising that Soweto was not mapped at all. This was the beginning of a lifelong obsession with maps and with photographs, and what they tell us about borders and boundaries: how we define ourselves by staying within them, or by transgressing them.
Johannesburg is a place of edges and boundaries; no place for a flaneur: this book is Gevisser’s account of getting lost in his home town, and then finding himself, and then getting lost again, as a gay Jewish South African who was raised under apartheid and who became an adult and married a man of a different race as the country moved towards freedom. Using maps and memories, photographs and stories, Lost and Found in Johannesburg presents a new way of understanding race and sexuality, heritage and otherness. If Gevisser transcended boundaries by playing “Dispatcher” as a boy, his own boundaries were brutally ruptured when he was attacked in a home invasion in January 2012, while completing this book. Lost and Found in Johannesburg is the story of that journey.
The Oxford book launch takes place at the African Studies Centre on 25 February.