I recently went on assignment to a beautiful country near the seashore, with clean white beaches you can walk on for miles on end.
The people were welcoming, the food and shopping were great. And as I was walking along the beach, I thought how fortunate I was to be able to travel to this beautiful country. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for big, sprawling, somewhat psychotic Johannesburg.
I’ll start with the main reason I sometimes don’t like Johannesburg:
Contrary to what the government claims, the high crime rate in South Africa and in Johannesburg in particular, is no urban legend. It happens to all of us, and not just “other people,” and touches many aspect of our lives.
The morning as I planned this article, one of my colleagues came to work angry, saying landlady was shot during a hijacking (carjacking). They took her to the nearest medical centre, where she was under care at the time of writing. My colleague was so furious she was almost in tears:” I hate this city!” she said.
And we could all empathize, because one way or another, we’ve been there. Two years ago this December, while I was on holiday, I received a call from a friend saying my house was burgled. The burglars didn’t just take my electronic devises – PC ( with my works in progress), printer, TV sets, VCR and DVD player, a digital camera etc – which would be easy to fence.
They also took artwork from my walls, our whole collection of DVDs and videos including my daughter’s kiddie shows, my fancy pots, dishes and knives, even the lawnmower and hairdryer.
The only reason they left the beds and couches is because I have the oversized types, and maybe they were too heavy to carry out or something.
By now you must be wondering why I love a city that sometimes treats its residents so shabbily. The reasons I love Johannesburg is that:
1. The people are generally friendly – Despite it being very large city with an estimated population of eight million Johannesburg is a friendly place. Most people will chat about nothing in particular at a drop of a hat.
I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with strangers while waiting for the stoplight to turn green, in the elevator or in the queue at the supermarket. I know of a couple of instances where a cab driver has taken a stranded tourist home, giving them a place to sleep so they can arrange a new flight and go home.
2. The weather is beautiful – Johannesburg weather is stable. In summer, it’s usually hot, with afternoon thunder showers to cool off. While Johannesburg has been known to rain during the day, usually rain has the good sense to come in the afternoon/at night after we’re all home and tucked in.
3. I never tire of looking at the buildings– I wouldn’t call many of the buildings in Johannesburg beautiful. In fact, some of them are downright ugly. But I never tire of looking at how the old buildings in the city centre stand dignified even when they face hard times, or start to take on a glow when they are renovated. I love the stately mansions in Houghton, where former President Nelson Mandela is supposed to have a home.
I like the new residential and business developments scattered all over the city, as they indicate economic development and a growing affluence of the residents.
I even like Midrand and Fourways, two northern regions where only the insane drive to/from during peak hours. Actually that’s not true – highways to these two areas are chockablock full of traffic regardless of the time of day. But that’s where the business action is, so sooner or later most Johannesburg business people have to gird their loins and join the crawling queue.
4. I love Johannesburg‘s spaciousness – Somehow Johannesburg managed to grow large and sprawling without having to compromise too much on space.
The roads are not always narrow, and yes, the developers are also building the tiny 52metre squared townhouses that are sold at exorbitant prices. I have even been known to ask ” where are the lower middle class supposed to live in this city?” But if you’re willing to look beneath the outward grubbiness of some of the old buildings, and the areas that trendiness passed by, you’ll still find a decent place to live.
To be continued…