#65. Get The Joburg Book – a guide to this city of “thieves and dreamers”. The Joburg Book, edited by Nechama Brodie of The Hunter Gatherer fame is more than a history book and more than a guide. Just released it’s a collection of writings about how this city came about ( a giant meteorite figures in the story), the nature of its contemporary life, its people and its food (it even contains a Biryani recipe for feeding 800 people) and its constant need for its own reinvention. And through it all runs a seam of gold that has shaped this place into what it is today — a magnet for fortune-seekers and adventurers, at times a refuge and at others a city under seige.
It’s still the same city that Herman Charles Bosman wrote about, saying: “They are trying to make Johannesburg respectable. They are trying to make snobs out of us, making us forget who our ancestors were. They are trying to make us lose our sense of pride in the fact that our forebears were a lot of roughnecks who knew nothing about culture and who came here to look for gold”.
From its cover — a specially designed iconic shweshwe print created by Da Gama textiles — to its suggestions for places to see and things to do in Joburg, it’s worth having.
To get the inside track I asked ms Brodie to list her most interesting discoveries made in the course of working on the book. Her answer was: “I discovered that there were many things I didn’t know about JHB. I never knew Doornfontein was the site of massive slumyards in the 30s. I never knew ZA imported 60 000 chinese labourers to work on the mines (and sent them all back). I never realised how far the Apartheid government had moved the city’s black and Indian populations (in a day when there was little private transport, and poor public transport) until I drove out to Lenasia (and Soweto). 50km doesn’t sound so far on paper, but in real-time it’s fa-a-a-a-r. I never knew L Ron Hubbard had lived on the Linksfield Ridge. I never knew we had a massive nature reserve on the edge of the city (Klipriviersberg) even though I had actually been to the recreation centre there (years ago, for my matric dance). I never knew that, at one time, Hillbrow was considered one of the most progressive places in the world in terms of modernist architecture… ”
And if she had 24 hours in the city…
“I love shopping and eating, so I would try and combine these pursuits… Best breakfast is a roll and meia de leite from Vida e Caffe – I want to try the new one opposite the Rand Club, on Loveday Street. I love buying fabric at 109 Pritchard Street; searching for cultural kitsch at the Oriental Plaza and New Chinatown in Cyrildene (samoosas or dumplings for lunch); Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens are Joburg’s best chill-out secret (I want to go with a picnic blanket, snacks from Woolies and a big book); I think afternoon tea at The Westcliff is unbeatable, for its views; dinner would be at Parreirinha, for prawns; or Vera Vita – both are in the south. I don’t know what happens after dinner, because I turn into a pumpkin. I hear there are plans to re-open the classic club DV8 – so maybe I would get to go on a big Joburg Jorl one of these days.”
Clearly not a lot of nothing to do in this town…
* The Joburg Book is published By PanMacmillan and Sharp Sharp Media and costs R300. It is on The List at Exclusive Books.