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Searching For Lizzy Malowa: Discovering Meaning In A Post-Apartheid Urban Landscape

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Martin Lewison
University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg | South Africa
When I was a child growing up in a whites-only suburb of apartheid Johannesburg, my parents employed a maid whose name was Lizzy Malowa. To me, she was more than a domestic worker, more than a nanny. She was a mother. She looked after me when I was alone, fed me when I was hungry; bathed me when I was dirty. She kept me warm on cold nights and protected me from the ‘tokalosh’ .

One day just like any other normal day, I returned home from school. I couldn’t find Lizzy anywhere. I searched the entire house, but she was not there. My parents informed me that they had “kicked her out”.

I never got to say goodbye. I was never allowed to grieve. I have never seen her since. I have often dreamed that one day I would find her. The dream always occurs on the streets or in the parks, always in the urban landscape, the spaces to which she must have gone when she left our home.
What was she feeling as she was thrown out of the house? What was she dreaming as she walked along the pavement with her belongings balancing on her head? Where did she go?

It is to the spaces Lizzy must have gone, the spaces where I dream of finding her, that I begin my search for meaning in a post-apartheid urban landscape.

My dissertation is an investigation into the everyday life of black domestic workers. It is a search to understand the spaces they occupy outside of their rigidly controlled working environment, their cramped domestic quarters - the public spaces, streets, pavements and left over surfaces of the urban landscape in which their gatherings and meetings, dreamings and rememberings are transforming the rigid, functional planning of the apartheid city.

The dissertation straddles the gap between research and design, the social and the imaginary. On the one hand, spaces and activities are observed and recorded; on the other, an architecture, emerging out of observed social practice is invented. The city is read and interpreted.

Martin Lewison

This dissertation has been submitted for its extraordinary combination of poignancy and objectivity, personal involvement and social observation, research and design.

In the environment of the still divided contemporary South African city, the student chooses a subject which foregrounds issues of race, class and gender through a careful observation of the everyday appropriation of public space by a largely invisible social group – the live-in domestic worker. His work consolidates the presence of this group in the public realm by designing street furniture in response to their needs. This constructs a social and political reading of the city that challenges the dominant narrative of ownership and property rights, unchanged since apartheid days.

The dissertation is particularly compelling in its tracing of a personal search for a lost relationship with a domestic worker. Her absence has been recorded by the student through the erection of an element of furniture outside the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of the Witwatersrand, dedicated to her, Lizzy Malowa.

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