Taggers paint the town red

27 February 2015 - 02:41 By Nivashni Nair
NO: Cape Town announced this week that it had cleaned up nearly a million square metres of graffiti and gangster tags spray-painted on the city's walls.
NO: Cape Town announced this week that it had cleaned up nearly a million square metres of graffiti and gangster tags spray-painted on the city's walls.
Image: HALDEN KROG

They arrive in the affluent suburbs and in city centres late at night, armed with cans of spray-paint.

Now Durban's upmarket Umhlanga Rocks Drive and La Lucia Ridge have become the latest canvases on which illegal graffiti artists, or "taggers", inscribe their names with much embellishment.

Since January the tagger graffiti has made an unwelcome appearance on street-side Telkom and electricity boxes, and on the exterior walls of homes.

Durban North-Umhlanga Community Police Forum's Haden Searles said: "It is vandalism and it is a crime.

"Residents pay huge rates to live in these areas and now have to witness the decay of their community.

"No one in any area wants to see these untidy markings on property that belongs to their community."

In the past, tip-offs have led to the forum arresting the vandals but it has yet to identify the latest graffiti gang.

A 16-minute video clip posted on YouTube two weeks ago (which has since been removed by the user) shows several graffiti crews "bombing" walls, light poles and street signs in the Johannesburg city centre.

The vandals in the video are dressed in dark clothes and hide behind bins and trees as police vehicles speed by. One artist begins "bombing" - spraying several surfaces in a single area - while others keep a look-out.

Handré Heunis, the founder of Graffiti Removal Services, which has removed more than 260000 tags since 2004, said crews often target Johannesburg's upmarket northern suburbs, forcing residents to pay for the "artwork" to be chemically removed.

He said vandals merely moved to another area when their work was erased.

Heunis admitted: "It's difficult to say whether we are winning the war against this form of decay."

Gary Roper, owner of the company's Durban branch, said plush areas such as Umhlanga, Durban North, Hillcrest and Kloof were popular targets for taggers.

"The authorities have to be more proactive in enforcing the law.

"It is illegal. Simply painting over it will not solve the problem."

A prolific graffiti artist known as "Ewok" said tagging was illegal.

"It might not be considered art and I can see how people will think of it as vandalism.

"Although I am not saying it is right, as artists we do not see it as just scribbled signatures. We appreciate the technique and the creativity used."

He said tagging crews did not have a particular preference for upmarket areas.

"All a graffiti artist sees is a wall."

Ewok said that tagging was not usually linked to gangsterism.

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