Christopher Hope frames Joburg

#172. Return to my poor neglected blog after an extended digital fast. It’s January in the city, the skies are grey, and two nights ago I was admiring the moonlit lake at Parkview Golf Course only to be told it was the 8th hole in flood after one of those incredible “will it ever stop” rain storms.

I have just been reading about the launch of the updated edition of From Joburg to Jozi: Stories about Africa’s infamous city on BookSA. Edited by Heidi Holland and Adam Roberts, the royalties are destined for Cotlands and will benefit children with HIV and AIDS. But that’s not the only reason to make the purchase.

The first edition came out in 2002 and I have a battered copy. It’s a collection of short pieces, and even a poem or two about this city written by writers and journalist, locals and foreigners, insiders and outsiders. One of my favourites is Kgafela oa Magogodi’s aftertears about funerals at Soweto’s famous Avalon cemetary, Jozi-style.

It starts like this:

121 gun salute
in avalon cemetary
we carry our hearts
in hand
wave them in the air
pistol style
pump action weep fashion
pull the trigger
bullets pop soda tears
jumpstart the dead
with the loud sounds
of our mourning

Then there’s Christopher Hope’s take on the city
“On the airport road into town two BMW convertibles neck and neck, hoods down, came barrelling past and I swear one driver had a cellphone in his ear. The Jo’burg earring. The boys were having fun. Dark and often fatal fun. Jo’burg fun. The word is ‘dicing’. It catches that curious blend of cockiness, aggression and fatalism one might call Jo’burg noir. [love the idea of Joburg noir – LT]
So you get wiped out on the motorway – or playing the slots. But if you’re going to go – may as well stay in the fast lane. It’s all dicing, anyway. Isn’t it, hey? So fuck you – arsehole! Suck my exhaust.

Welcome to Jo’burg – have a nice day.

On the side of the airport road is the familiar, fearsome clutter. Some child-giant got tired of his toys and has thrown them out of his cot. Low-browed office parks, pompous warehouses, and a clenched fist of houses sphincter-tight behind beautiful walls, Jo’burg’s trademark, the anal-retentive suburb. And then the brand new architecture of liberation – the Romano-kitsch casino, a thousand slot machines wrapped around a shopping mall.”

Taken together the book is a wild ride through Joburg/Johannesburg/Jozi/Igoli in all its guises from Marlene van Niekerk’s “nowhere city” to Gcina Mhlope’s city of dreams it stands out for what it doesn’t have – for Alan Lipman its authentic local architecture; and for what it does — “Johannesburg is a city of walls” writes Frank Lewinberg. And probably its most defining feature apart from its now rapidly shrinking mine dumps is that it is a city to be grappled with, to respond to. It is not passive and inert. It’s not Auckland or Toronto. It’s brash and evocative and always calls for a fierce response.

And the last word must go to Christopher Hope who writes:
“This is a town that thought mine dumps were pretty, that had a soft spot for slimes dams, and thanked God he had given it a reef of gold beneath its feet. The mine dumps are shrinking. Years ago they hung around town like drunks on day release from the detox clinic. The sandy equivalents of meths drinkers in Joubert Park. Scrubby grass like fierce unshaven stubble grew over their yellow faces. Thing was – you liked them, you blushed a bit when visitors said ‘what do you do with them?’

Some bright spark took one of these sandcastles, sheered off its head and planted a drive-in movie on the crest. Great stuff. Someone had an even better idea. What about tearing down the dumps and taking them to the cleaners all over again, for the pinpoints of gold they didn’t give up first time round?

Very Jo’burg.”

Gotta love that

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