Three Men, a Fence & a Dead Body by Sean O’Toole

Straddling the fence
In 1975 the SA government sanctioned the construction of a 120 km security fence along the Mozambique border. This was later extended to Zimbabwe. The design is simple: an animal-proof wire fence on the Zimbabwe/Mozambique side with a similar razor-mesh fence on the South African side; in between is a cleared area through which runs an electrified fence set in razor-wire coils. It has two setting, alarm and lethal (3,300 volt), the Mozambique border claiming the lives of 33-200 people a year before the ‘Snake of Fire’, as local people knew it, was set to alarm mode, including the length separating here from Zimbabwe.

In 2002 the Mozambique fence was torn down to facilitate the creation of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Elephants were the big winners. The Zimbabwe fence however still exists, albeit as a monument to white insecurity. Although policed by the army, the fence is seen as a routine obstacle my Zimbabwean migrants, cigarette smugglers and cattle rustlers crossing into the country illegally. It is a toothless snake, but also a place anyone interested in understanding those high suburban walls with their electric wires speaking in strange clicking sounds.

We explore the history of this fence, and look into its significance as a strange keyhole onto the present and our national obsession with walls, their construction, their aesthetics, their symbolism.

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One Response to “Three Men, a Fence & a Dead Body by Sean O’Toole”
  1. Jennifer 9 February 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    This is a much lighter element of the fence story, but it may be something to include the art that has emerged from the dialogue around fences.

    I’m thinking specifically about Nelson’s Tower, that large pile of Robben Island maximum-security prison fencing that was a part of the Spier Contemporary last year. Chris Swift constructed it to mimic the Guard tower’s of robben island and is now selling pieces of the fence on his website

    This is from 2010 and a bit topical, but still another angle to look at the symbolism, “art”, and meaning-making around fences.

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