Johannesburg has grimy streets. The CBD, I mean. There’s a lot of excavation work going on in town, as there is all over Joeys, with standard maintenance. MTN’s cabling ambitions and the ubiquitous Joburg Water constantly digging up pavements and generally making dust and shit out of what was once a decent level surface but, also, there’s a crap house full of humanity here. The wear and tear (busted water pipes trickling, road usage, remnants of fires made in the night) and the moronic flippancy of humanity (chuck your shit on the ground), not to mention bodily fluids, mielie skins, soot, general refuse and constant pedestrian traffic all go towards something I noticed the other day, now that I live in the CBD, having left leafy suburbia behind. I came home to notice the smears on my bathroom mats. From my shoes. I had walked the grime into my apartment. You can get away with walking through your house in your shoes in suburbia without dark marks showing on your carpeting. Not here, cousin. Here the Asian traditions hold truer – take off your shoes when you enter.
I am digging it though. I last fraternised in Joburg CBD almost thirty years ago – visiting Peri Peri, the long running Portuguese restaurant with blood curtains draped like whale spoof all over the place and the old Chinatown – Commissioner Street – Seven Swallows or Eight Hundred Swans or whatever it was. The Market Theater. Carlton Center, when it was still a thrill to get up high and Carlton defined high and still had swagger.
I have been wanting to return to inner city living just to see what the inner city is nowadays and also maybe write the developments and achievements up for Joburg Property, put together a more interactive portal with video and copy content and generally present Joburg in a less predictable and far more exciting manner. Since I’m still pitching that, I’ll avoid any comments about dry, shitty governmental information, scattered and half buried among all sorts of other crap to avoid being thrown out of my next appointment but jislaaik, fok! There is a lot happening and some beautiful buildings in Joburg, old as is and also the refurbished ones, great overtures and such a mooshmash. Streetside cafes, building renovations and conversions, different strategies being tried out on space utilisation, but you wouldn’t know it trying to coalesce the fragmentary bits and pieces posted by parties who have developments happening, municipal overtures manifesting, individual optimists and so on. Hence my desire to skip across those private and/or state boundaries and present Joburg CBD as a unified thing, and this is what it looks like to me…
I have seen other whiteys. First, a half-lams or quite possibly semi-retarded omie hobbling along to work. Then quite a swish looking chic crossing Gandhi Square. Then another well dressed middle aged dude sitting in a bus shelter. A white couple who took it all back down a peg, looking more like Krugersdorp central (failed) white working class who make the transition to “living with the blacks you know” with such an irksome lack of grace. And, well, a few others. But as for whiteys in my building (it’s big), there’s one white chic doing her rastaman and no one else, I think. So far. And,as for whiteys who hit the streets and head for MTN rank or Bree or Wanderers with a knapsack on their back in the early dark of the morning like all the other wretched of the earth trudging their way to work, I think I’m alone. So far, as far as I can tell…
From my unique perspective, while I used to hustle some of the tellers at Checkers Lonehill, a few of which I would totally do, here the tellers in the local Spar are all lelik. Is that a town thing? Also, the whole prospect of getting close to the black female pedestrian masses, a prospect I relished as I turned my head so often taxiing through town in the months I have been without a vehicle and before I moved here, is kind of offset by being a token whitey. Somehow, being white and on the street as a whitey in the CBD is still unexpected. Unexpected by black folk anyway. Not unexpected as in mildly alarming or exciting, unfortunately, but unexpected as in it goes unnoticed. I guess in mixed or predominantly white suburbia, black chicks expect to see white guys. Here, I guess they expect to shop and walk and get home – there doesn’t seem to be much wide eyed interest in life generally, never mind the novelty of a whitey they just might want to bang. Fok. From line fishing I guess I’ll have to develop a trawling strategy here. There have been one or two smiley greetings on my stairwell but, besides that, the whole total capitalisation on proximity hasn’t panned out as I imagined. Little chats over the laundry line, a “Say, could you help me hang my mirror (smiling wryly)”, even a student or two who frat with all colours who might say “Say, tell me how come you’ve decided to stay in town and (while I’m dreaming) are you busy this evening because I’d really love it if you came over and banged the shizznizz out of me?”
I’m reminded of a conversation I had while sitting in a taxi with a girlfriend not long ago, when she said, in whispered tones, that black folks who see a whitey in a taxi think there’s something wrong, like, the whitey’s a failed whitey in some sense. It’s always interesting for me to hear what black folk think of whiteys because, of course, I’ve heard all the white stuff whiteys say about darkies, but we seldom get to hear those offhand bits of bigotry darkies throw around about us. Well, fuck you. Fronting for a UK concern, I’m buying and selling cars weekly so I have a lot of cars in my life and I could surely drive one if I wanted. The fact is, I’m still enjoying the experience of taxiing in a minibus. They go everywhere, stop anywhere and generally get you there faster than anything could, even in peak, except perhaps a motorbike. I’ve gained a different perspective – when you’re behind a taxi or, more usually, cut off by one or watching one reversing up an off ramp or driving on the wrong side of the road, you just want to stick your foot up his ass. But when you’re inside one, they’re pretty groovy for all of the reasons mentioned above. A huge weight of hatred has fallen from me, simply by being a regular passenger..
Terug huis toe, I stroll past a shop – is it the church’s shop? – that looks more like a porn video store with thousands of DVD titles displayed in the windows. There are tiny holes in the wall shops – hairdressers, cell shops (every one with a Pakistani in them), clothing ‘stores’, penis enlargement shops…. Just kidding about the last one although, for fuck’s sake, in probably the only city in the world where bigger dicks and tits and thirty minute abortions and recapturing lost lovers is advertised to dementia in posters on every available surface. I often wonder where exactly the blou vetterjoel these practitioners operate from? The church over the road is either small or the building they operate from relatively sound proof, because they aren’t offensive. Assuming, of course, you don’t take the name seriously and the nigger in his swish suit who heads it all up – Holy Prophet Trinity or some such. I should start a church, it’s good money. Pastor Chris knock-offs, the lot… Always some asshole who is claiming a direct line to God… And, by the way, on the subject of the money hungry asswipe Pastor Chris – fok jou. Wow, that felt good…. The sooner you’re caught with hookers or molesting children the better for human sanity and the black working class’ savings kitty. Jesus wouldn’t pay you a visit, bling boy. Fucking pimp.
There are hairdressers who braid all over, little single crate ‘spazas’ all over, a true weekend stitches tavern over the road up the drag a little. Weekend stitches in your head, from a beer bottle or half brick. You know the type. More churches scattered around, every one hoping to be ‘blessed’ by God as he allows them to take money out of good people’s pockets and buy a new suit…
It has taken me a few days to stop jumping every time a car goes over the steel grid on our building’s ramp outside – each time it happened when I first moved in I thought it was the neighbours again, banging on the door about the music. I have post traumatic stress disorder on the issue, man. So happy to have black neighbours now as no one gives a shit about time lines and volume. None of this pedantic white shit that I had to diffuse constantly at the old place.
Joburg town is beautiful. It’s big, has some lovely buildings that although not that old already speak of a former era, such is the care and even artistry or artisan-ship that went into them when they were built all those years ago. I haven’t been mugged yet and Metro cops are everywhere, along with bus line security guards, Joburg City security guards and assorted other security personnel. I’m not sure if all of that’s a good thing – I am half expecting to be mugged by a cop – but let’s see…
One can’t help notice, though, that other foreign nationals – notably the Pakistanis who have all of these clothing and cellphone shops all over – are pretty relaxed on the streets. They are cash businesses too. They don’t seem too freaked out by life in Joeys.
So, how’s life in the CBD? Ok. The taxi ranks at Bree and MTN and even Wanderers are remarkably well organised. There are venues where you can do just about anything except pat an elephant (although that’s not far) and people here are just folks, you know, trying to get ahead. Working, shopping, eating, working again. So far, the wretched skollies and the failed seem remarkably absent. There are only three or four persistent beggars around the place. All of those “Are you out of your fucking mind?!” responses I got when I mooted moving here (interestingly mostly from black friends) haven’t been supported by dire experience nor any other pitfalls. I still remember how Atang, a girlfriend, was mugged up the 200m road that sits on my last place’s corner. Just outside my leafy, swish apartment in Lonehill, sexy Fourways, tsotsis mugged my chick one evening when it was still light enough for passing cars to see it all and step on the gas pedal. Also here, I strongly suspect, if you hash it out and become of interest to pedestrian traffic, having just ripped off a store or mugged someone poorly chosen, there’s a real possibility that you’ll be kangaroo courted and flogged in the streets (or burnt or beaten to death with bricks, either way) so, crime is a high risk venture unless you’re fast on your feet or high on nyaope.
My apartment is nice, a little boxy, but nice, and, having bought prepaid electricity for the first time in my life, R20 has seen me through the last thirteen days of power needs. Think I was getting fucked at my last place, that’s for sure.
Just one thing – can this city, for no extra spend than it currently extends, not rig a 24 hour cleaning squad so that we can have clean streets? Yes, maybe Metro cops can also harass litterers but, really, having watched Joburg town become more and more soiled over the last decade or two, can someone in the municipality not present a different, proactive and workable plan that acknowledges the current state and simply reconfigures human and other capital in a manner that results in a vastly cleaner city? Why is that such a big ask? Joburg will never be a “World Class African City” until they do. It gets up my nose because it’s not a highly technical solution that’s required, just mostly shuffling of resources and, alright, perhaps a slightly bigger spend on night shifts and the likes but the results will push rentals and values and desirability back up over the next few years and thus will revenue for the city powers go up too.
Guys, fok, come on…. Get this shit picked up. It’s lelik en fokken onaanvaarbaar really, when you think about it. So far, that’s my only gripe. That, and the fact that Pastor Chris is still alive…
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