I am trying to work out the hierarchy of Joburg’s street people, prompted by my ongoing fascination with who is outside my car window. This is Joburg and the cast is carnivalesque, a constant reminder that no matter your state of privilege there is no getting away from poverty. If you have a car, there you are cocooned in your own thoughts, listening to the radio or occupied by a cellphone call and thinking it’s a private moment when a knock on the window calls attention to a man draped in cellphone chargers, or holding a large box of fruit that you don’t eat or wielding a soapy-filled water bottle and a squeegee and hellbent on cleaning your windscreen (in the North it’s Grayston Drive offramp, in the east it’s the corner next to Eastgate Mall) milliseconds before the traffic light changes. (In my hierarchy, the window-washers occupy the lowest rung because after having had a smash-‘n’-grab (there’s even a neat phrase for it) years ago I get panicked when someone lies across my line of sight).
This is a long overdue review of one of those essential companions for making this city your friend. Chic Jozi [by my friend Nikki Temkin] was first published in 2009 and has now been updated. It opens with the disclaimer: “Joburg is notorious for being a fickle and fast-changing city. Stores open and close all the time, change location and name …” Too true and the reason why impulse buying is key to survival here, as one minute that covetable item is in that window and the next day that building has been demolished to make way for another mall. Continue reading →