Six Wormholes Through a Money Border

“So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?”
- Ayn Rand

Money acts as connection to past dreams for the future, in its excess it flaunts its previous state of lacking. But in the face of unemployment, this contact with the wealthy world is endeavoured through creative, non-standard means - the sort of ‘path of human miracle’ that Simmel speaks of between two separated entities (Leach 1997:66). While capital becomes increasingly militarized an protected, parallel wormholes of its penetration are devised particularly in the case of the more desperate (Hull and James 2012:8).

The ‘informal’ activities that run parallel to the formal financialised ones reveal themselves as not very informal at all, but highly organic resilient systems that exist. Van Wyk maintains that South Africa’s urban poor show an enormous amount of flexibility to deal with economic fluctuations (Van Wyk 2012:1). The tragedy of these flexibilities is that they often involve an exploitative or criminal element, which may bring rise to a call for more just but alternative methods for such creative entry.

The six modes for entry that will be studied are those of grants, informal group saving structures, loans, gambling systems, ‘divine intervention’ - indicative of occult practices in muthi and in religious prayer which claim to alleviate poverty; while the final method studied is that of crime.
It also is interesting to note that a lot of the following methods for entry involve a sort of magical element of luck. Perhaps this may be in a corollary retaliation to the “lottery of birth”, as Warren Buffet (cited Roth 2010) calls it. Bad luck thus creates a market for artificial good ‘lucks’, again returning to the cognizance of casino type seen as solution.


One public contribution to the cause of economic enablement is through the state grant, an office for which exists in close proximity to the selected thesis site. However, its shear scale on which grants occur indicates that government, too, may view that the world of protected capital cannot be entered except by magical acquisition. South Africa gives a very high percentage to grants as compared to other developing countries (Hull and James 2012:10). According to Stats SA (2010b: 6, 37-38) , this set at 43.7% given to households in South Africa, with 25.2% of people of working age unemployed (Stats SA 2010a: 1-3).
However, research indicates that many people actually find this system very unreliable and unpleasant (Van Wyk 2012:21), and perhaps this may be part of the cause to encourage people to turn to more risky solutions (like the rest listed in this discussion) for monetary acquisitions.


For the people who do are able to earn a livelihood, sometimes group structures are assembled to both assist in retention and safety, or in cheaper spending in groups. Simone (1998:176) shows that in African cities new entrepreneurial consortiums often form, separate to formal financial institutions, where people group to save in buying in bulk, or sharing transportation or import costs over a group.
People also engage in stokvel and funeral saving clubs in lieu of indebtedness. (Sapa 2014:21 , James, cited hull and James 2012: 19). Members are able to receive a lump sum at a specific point, which as an accumulated mass, helps attainment of capital to reckon with.
On the risky end of the group saving spectrum, pyramid schemes have also gained a lot of popularity in South Africa, which are often run by organisations that are untraceable overseas (Comaroff & Comaroff 1999: 297)


People who have peer-pressure for pay ins in group savings, often, however, have to turn to loan sharks to assist with shortfalls that occur unpredictably (The Micro Debt 2011). As an example, one can note the huge intensity of advertisements for loaning avenues on Louis Botha Avenue, as indicated in Figure 32 below. Although debt may be argued to have a societal discomfort, thus hidden from society’s eye (James, Hill, cited James 2012:19) , it is not hidden from the eyes of the shark, and is abundantly visible on vertical surfaces on many of Johannesburg’s streets.

Loan sharks proliferate, and they exist on the basis more of the debtors being able to ‘make a plan’, rather than their provable economic standpoint (Van Wyk 2012:25). Still, formal banking institutions have been offering loans more easily and prolifically, but with immensely high interest rates to cover risks (Koblanck 2014, Hull and James 2012:3). Thus, debt in this way is detrimental to those who are not necessarily poorest, but actually those who have a bit of money to actually get themselves a chance at economic betterment. (James, Hill, cited Hull and James 2012:19) Other loaning systems where group is used as collateral like the Grameen Bank actually also deals with risk in the same way, although less explicitly. Debtors who cannot pay have to be compensated by assets from within the group, which often ends in bitterness (The Micro Debt 2011). The insecurity of getting back what is paid in a pyramid scheme can be argued to be likened to that of the Lottery; where people sometimes get their money back and sometimes got “a bonus on top” (Van Wyk 2012:26). However, the Lottery poses less risk at each payment, being more nation-wide prolific and therefore cheaper. However, in many of the poorer communities of South Africa, close to R100 is spent per month by players, seventy-percent of which come from low-income groups (Collins 2006, cited Van Wyk 2012:9). In many cases, in fact, Van Wyk shows (2012:18) that playing the lottery is not seen as gambling, owing to the fact that it outcome is delayed, and that ‘everyone does it’. This alludes to this form of gambling being rather seen as a sort of high-risk investment, or even a form of work (Van Wyk 2014:14).

Gambling seems to be justified, as unemployment becomes increasingly a realistic problem, and it is “as precarious as other income streams” (Hull and James 2012:26). In addition, it also doesn’t reflect lack of risk knowledge, as similar activity actually happens in more formal structures of the economy (Hull and James 2012:26). Van Wyk (2012:1) also reinforces the idea of gambling seen as a type of work by claiming that its view of it as risky behaviour is borrowed from Western and middle-class perceptions. The South African government too had banned it in the 1950s, in the worry it would hamper its resources of hard-earned labour (Rule & Sibanyoni 2000, cited Van Wyk 2012:2). Later, this strictness would be overlooked in the apartheid homelands, for the reason that government wanted to appear less restrictive on the international scene, while it was actually getting kickbacks from white-owned casinos (Van Wyk 2012:3)

Despite all this, Van Wyk (2012:3) depicts: that people who lived on the ”margins of privilege” have for a long time engaged in gambling practices: “Unrestrained and ‘risky’ informal gambling is widespread, multiform and plays a significant part of daily life in most informal settlements”. Many of these types are based on real-life existences, and are not completely pure-luck based. For example, three-cap1 gambling requires certain skill on the part of the player to watch the game-runners hands and beat him at being fooled (Van Wyk 2012:27). Van Wyk further exemplifies that domino and pool players (Van Wyk 2012:17) could “get themselves out of a tight spot” with skill and experience even if they were started out with a bad deal.
Fahfee2, on the other hand, is less skill-based; but chosen symbols for winning are occasionally based on interpreted dreams (Malcomess & Kreutzfeldt 2013:204.) It remains, however, viewed by its runners and players as a legitimate form of work where money can be accumulated. (Matyu 2008 , cited Van Wyk 2012:16)

Besides from gambling viewed as a form of work, it also is viewed in certain situations as a form of political empowerment. Van Wyk argues this through observed research which shows that many coloured Johannesburg citizens use gambling as a form of late-capitalist defiance to the racist capitalism of apartheid (Dugmore 1992, cited Van Wyk 2012:17). Furthermore, gambling that occurred in shebeens gave their female operators an opportunity for importance in “unwelcoming” township environments (Van Wyk 2012:17). Besides from these more nomadic parochial forms of gambling, the Johannesburg landscape has also been proliferated large casinos , sport-betting arenas; indicating a very wide spread market for gambling in 21st century South Africa. (Van Wyk 2012:2). There are also claims that the proliferation of gambling has a standing in ingenious mystification of money and belief (Van Wyk 2012:18).


The Comarroffs deal quite extensively with a discussion pertaining to this mysticism in late-capitalism, in their book Occult economies and the violence of abstraction (1999). They argue that there is a perception in twenty-first century South Africa, there are “mysterious mechanisms” at hand, mechanisms which “hold the key to hitherto unimaginable riches, to capital amassed by the ever more rapid, often immaterial flow of value across time and space, and into the intersecting sites where local meets the global” (Comaroff & Comaroff 1999:284) Depicted in its perspective rather than its actuality, the Comaroffs thus show that it is the view of money as able to be gained in supernatural ways that actually fuels the fire
of its actuality, being fast and massive, as embodied as a win at the casino. However, different forms of this supernatural interception as method for capital entry are indicated - for example as in witches that claim to bring financial success at consultation (Comaroff & Comaroff 1999:298; See Figure 26) In addition, they remark how Universal Church of God too , which claims through interception of God, to guide the church-goer with powers beyond the everyday, a certain ‘luck’ to get it right. In addition, “Here Pentecostalism meets neo-liberal enterprise: the chapel is, literally, a store-front in a shopping precinct“(Comaroff & Comaroff 1999:291). In this example, the church becomes a gateway into the world of capital.
These prophetic processes become profitable in themselves, and offer new strange ways for South Africans to make a living off others aspirations for one. What is clear, though, by the occurrence of these spaces, is that there is a market for alternative methods of getting in on the world of money; again seen as a sort of investment where small amounts of money are inputted in the hope of getting it compounded back a hundred-fold.


Excerpt from Mending Wall, by Robert Frost (Frost 1997):
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.

The wall in Frost’s poem holds in it a power of demarcating two sides, giving cognizance to opposition. Low (2008:157) observes that living behind gates reinforces the perception that people who live on the outside are dangerous or bad: awareness of the two sides is thus introduced by the presence of a wall. As will be discussed later, Simmel shows rather that it is the presence of the gate or the door that cognizes two adjoining spaces (Leach 1997:65). It is in this s periphery; here e where wealthy and poor or meet, where private and public meet, or where local al and global too; that a a sort of scrambling of regulation occurs. Easterling (2007:75) argues that the ‘corporate city’ occupies a territory between “different species of urbanity”, finding a host, as Tuan (2005:120) reiterates, in “legal lacunae and political quarantine “ that these spaces often provide, which further are often tax, labour and environmental regulation exempt (as planners try to encourage its development).

Lambert (2013:83) notes: “A border is not a line, but a three dimensional space. And while the rules are clear as to what happens either side of it, what happens within a border isn’t so straight forward…[The border is] Telling you if you’re in or if you’re out – or worse, in a space where the rules no longer apply.” The thickness of the border thus has importance; to the distance between real and fantasy [the border] is vital in conveying a sense of authority to the illusion of the detachedness of the approaching realm, having “power to affect one” (Tuan 2005:120). In architecture, the
wall line itself, as Lambert (2013:83) shows, becomes a legal diagram: “The legal ambiguity that operates in the thickness of the line is therefore a double-edged sword; it constitutes an escape from the law architecture’s power of subjugation, but it also condemns the body who resides in it to loss of status. “ (Lambert 2013: 83)
It is in this world of opacity and new rules that crime emerges, both in the realm of corporate and non-formalised structures; examples of which have been described in the points prior to ‘Crime’. Malcomess & Kreutzfeldt (2013:140) cite Van Onselen’s work in New Babylon an Nineveh as that which “makes very clear is the proximity (and often complicity) of the underworld with world of mining capital...(and in some cases) the proximity of institutions of discipline and law enforcement with criminal organisation.“ It is thus from the beginning that at we see a sort of organised crime emerge  on Johannesburg’s lucrative landscape. It can also be shown that state favours turning a blind eye away from formal economy structures, instead  in the hopes to regularise the informal (Hull and James 2012:7, Simone 1998:174) but this is covertly also would be for a more profitable practice  for government. This alludes to a sort of ‘informalisation’ of the formal. The space between private capital and informal markets becomes increasingly grey, with the two borrowing advantageous properties of each other. Bremner (1999:54) depicts: “The space between things falling apart and things being put together is this highly charged, criminalized one.” The boundaries to the outside world are rendered more fortified and militarized (Bremner 1999:53), which can be argued to further contribute towards the interiorised urban or architectural spaces having the ability to attract to themselves new rules of being

However, it can be argued that these defences indicate a sense of vulnerability (Simone 1998: 177, Bremner 1999:55) Just as sophisticated as the wall becomes, it indicates a retaliation that occurs in its solutions for a porosity. Thus people in the suburbs of Johannesburg spend large amounts of their income on fortifying their boundaries, and if one house on a street installs an electric fence, the others feel pressured to follow suit, afraid of becoming the most vulnerable property on the block” (Bremner 1999:56).

Unexpectedly, though, these highly protected enclaves of private capital are also not the site of the worst crime in Johannesburg; in fact those of Soweto, Alexandra and Orange Farm are (Bremner 1999:55). The poor remain walled out of ‘real help’, and chance interaction with the different kinds of people who live in these two zones becomes rarer, separation deepens and a sense of shared space is lost.” (Bremner 1999:59).  

Ultimately, these new versions for survival and distinguishment display an urgent need for new, creative (sometimes at the point of become strange) and flexible modes of entry into the increasingly distant and augmenting world of formalised financialisaton. These modes, do, however, make vulnerable the people who are turning to some of these risky alternatives


The dissection of the money border with Johannesburg as an exemplary depicts various interesting properties; one being the double sided coin of spatial device that both divides and connects. Johannesburg inherent a spatialised urban form that restricts previously economically barred populations. More recently, its incestuous development in the private sector grows taller and taller, ever more distant from the person on the street. However, parallel to these occurrences, one can discover a structuring in its informal sector; providing more parochial and embedded money flows which remain increasingly magical and unperceived. What results in conceptual separation from what is attainable or possibly achieved. The second quality of interest are the new invented porosities to loophole the normal routes of control between both sides. This characteristic rather indicates the distancing of money from the everyday - attributing its acquisition to new metaphysical methods of chance and belief. The neo-liberal South Africa therefore alludes to much ‘Underworld’ (see footnote 1 on page 18) and it is in this internalised blind spot in addition to the assembly of a financial institution’s architecture that new methods for entry and more equal dialogue may be afforded.

Part 1 of this essay is given in ‘Money Mirages: Across the River Styx in 21st Century Johannesburg’

Essay published in December 2014, University of the Witwatersrand, School of Architecture and Planning. Written by Sarah de Villiers, broader project in which this text features was supervised by Kirsten Doermann. Original document containing this essay available here.

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spaceKIOSK      is a multidisciplinary architecture, research and design studio based in Johannesburg, South Africa.