A lot has gone down since my return from Scotland. Probably the biggest step I’ve taken is that instead of squatting with family in the United Kingdom, I have relocated and started to squat with family in Johannesburg. Moving sideways in the world.
I grew up in Witbank, so there a few things I appreciate about Joburg, like potable water, breathable air, and wastable electricity. However, I spent the last 10 years of my education living in Pretoria and I really fell in love with the place and its people. I like just about everything about Pretoria, except for the feeling that you are living inside a slightly racist volcano.
As the Capital City (yes fucking Capetonians, I know there are three, but PTA is the main capital not your globalised, sandy vagina shitstorm next to a lump of rock), Pretoria is of much significance to the history of South Africa, through wars, protests, and policies. Many war-time forts are all still standing from years ago, and in more recent times it boasts the beautiful Union Buildings.
But my favourite part of Pretoria is the culture. Granted, it is one that is a bit more Afrikaans than most, and let’s just say I hardly resemble the ideal guy for Marieke to bring home for a family braai to meet the obligatory Oom Niell. I happen to be the popular colour, but that’s mattering less and less as our country grows up. But besides the extremes (and all cities in the world have them), Pretoria is home to some pretty awesome people, and has some how managed to become more cosmopolitan without losing much of its Pretorianess.
For a start, shoes are completely optional. This may sound bizarre for a city that is over 600 km to the nearest beach. But it’s hot, and the Afrikaans people don’t dig ‘em, so that’s it. They’re gone. Folks rock the kaalvoet to shopping centers, classes, and even bars. I’ve done it to two of those places, the other I didn’t really visit much.
This very much sets the tone for the chilled-outness of Pretoria, without becoming too hippy. This was obviously helped along by the university. Tuks, although massive, is fairly polyglot in its own right. Some varsities favour certain faculties, but Tuks has quite a few students in all departments. BA kids were reminded that some people like being normal, law kids got the drift that nobody wants to deal with their shit, Bcommoners were introduced to the working class, and engineers were shown that not only were there other people, but you could actually talk to them.
Something that really spoke to me was the counter-culture that exists in the Capital City. The Afrikaans culture, as a whole, is very strict and churchy. Still to this day I practice the social cues learned here. People stand up when they greet, and shake your hand every time they see you. General English social cues annoy the shit out of me, where I am confined to sit around a dinner table where I cannot speak until spoken to, eat until other people eat, put my elbows on the table, reach for shit that is far way, interrupt people to ask them to reach for stuff, eat too quickly, finish my food, or do anything deemed offensive. It seem the most courteous thing you can do around an English table is silently starve to death, thank the hosts for the meal post-mortem, and only gossip about them in the hearse as you pull away to go to the drive-through.
But most of the Afrikaans values are routed in a hierarchy, which is something that can often work out. There’s a lot of archaic chivalry too, but that’s a moan for another day. See, while there is a lot of good that comes out of this culture, it is fairly rigid at times. Sunday means church. Church means no angry music or sex before marriage. No sex before marriage or loud music means you have to take your anger out on the rugby field, and if you’re small, you play 9 or 2, depending on how fat you are. Needless to say, a lot of Afrikaans youths didn’t fit into this mould. Add on the post-Apartheid (and I capitalise that word as a Proper Noun not to give it any power) guilt, with some inherent teenage angst, and you have yourself some pissed off young folk. This is where the alternative scene kicked off in PTA and kind of stayed. It survived through places like Aandklas and formerly Zeplins, and the annual pilgrimage to Oppikoppi. These venues will often have bepierced folk of both languages, and increasingly of both races, jamming out to Fokofpolisiekar and the like.
This scene fit someone like me, as English as they come, but still a 9th team scrumhalf, rather well. I became really invested in the residence culture, one that used to be quite Afrikaans, but has Anglicised itself along with Tuks (or “UP”). But besides all the fun and games on nights out that were far more-language integrated than a lot of part of the country (although still as race-separated as most of the country), there’s actually not a lot to do in Pretoria. It is a place for students to drink, because that is all they have money for. Few clubs have dress codes and drinks prices are reasonable. Anything more interesting or expensive brings us seamlessly to Johannesburg.
Johannesburg (Joburg, Jozi) is the biggest city in SA. This is where the stock exchange lives, where businesses make the big deals, and where overseas people come when they’re not visiting for a holiday. Although Cape Town is arguably bigger by itself, Gauteng province has about a quarter of the population of SA, most of whom live in Jozi and its surrounding areas. It’s kind of a big deal. People know it.
Like many people, I’ve moved to Jozi for a job, and like many people I have been disappointed. Luckily I am able to live here in the interim, but not working full time has another obvious flaw: money. Joburg runs on it. Jozi became this popular with the gold rush, and people have been chasing gold ever since. And if you got enough of it, you will never be bored. Jozi always has something on the go, for a price, and this is probably related to all the young professionals mixing with the big-time professionals and international clients. If you go out for dinner on a Tuesday (something unheard of where I’m from), you will see Afrikaans tannies coming out of live shows, businesses having corporate functions at comedy houses, and people drinking everywhere. Not as hard as Pretorians, but more frequently, you know business drinks and lots of people have a lot of business. They also have to factor in cheating on their partners, so that diary gets pretty full pretty quickly.
The first thing that everyone loves to talk about in Joburg is the traffic. It is unreal and I don’t even do the morning commute. I have never before looked someone in the the eyes via my rear-view mirror and seen a person consciously decided to risk both my and their lives in an effort to get home 30 seconds quicker than they would have. People don’t let you into lanes, don’t have time for those who are lost, and don’t give a fuck. I was overtaken by a car with steel beams protruding from its boot on a single lane road, and was thanked in the form of a middle finger out of the window. This seemingly hindsight town planning also means that a lot of petrol stations are only one one side of the road and this is unfortunate since you waste so much petrol in Jozi getting lost. Missing a turn means you are fucked for kilometers, and this bizarre concept of having a highway that runs through a city can often come back to bite you in the ass. And if the people and town planning aren’t bad enough, there are speed cops that trap on normal roads. Like fucking back-alley routes and alternatives that people use are machine-trapped by cops who don’t seem to follow this whole bribing life that they’re meant to be about. Joburg drivers are like Joburg off-ramps: they’re supposed to give you hope, but if you end up in the wrong lane, you’ll be sworn at, lost, fined, punched, e-tolled, drowned, and find yourself on the streets of Midrand offering strangers lifts on the pure assumption that they know where the fuck they are going.
But Joburg people are not so bad when they exit their auto-erratic asphyxiation. Even slowing down at a robot exposes you to the guys selling an array of products. I feel for these chaps, doing shitty work in the sun while most people wave them away in their air-conditioned cars. But I like to take the pamphlets because I am a good person, and my Golf doesn’t do aircon. This has lead me into the psyche of Johannesburgers that I had not intended visiting. For a start, the one of the pamphlets offered “nude maids”. And not hot chicks that dressed up as maids, but actual live nude performers who cleaned shit up. I’m not saying that I would not make use of these services separately, but at the same time seems a little silly, and kind of tells you how efficient Joburgers need to be. “Oh yea, I want to you take your clothes off. In fact, I want you to throw them in the corner and separate them by colour and not forget that the delicates don’t go in the tumble dryer. Yea you know I’m dirtier than that spot under the couch where the vacuum cleaner can go. I want you all over my bed so you can tuck the sheets in real tight so it can look good for all the people that aren’t going to see it.” It’s a bit much for me.
The next interesting flyer I found was for sort of natural remedies that made a number of promises, my favorite went along the lines of promising to “attract people you don’t know”. I thought this was a brilliant business model as you’d struggle to tell when it didn’t work. This does seem a strange promise, though, since nobody in Joburg want to attract people they don’t know, even though they all seem to be the same person. For a start, they are all always busy. Joburgers don’t sit still or do something for the sake of doing it. It’s a business lunch, after-work drinks, corporate functions, networking opportunities, or personal growth. They’ll bitch about spending 3 hours in traffic to get home, and then spend another hour jogging back the way they came so they look fit enough to fuck the intern. They all dress similarly, the woman like they are trying to get a raise from a dirty old boss, and the men as if T-shirts are a sparse commodity. Buttoned-up shirts dominate the corporate workforce, lumberjack shirts on the down time or creative industries, and collared shirts for the normal guys and dads. Weekends are reserved for wife-beaters and flat caps, sort of a mix of identity between American celebrities and Australian drug-addicts.
Everybody seems to speak the same way too, at least the white English people. The women put extra emphasis on their vowels (Hiii guuuuys) and the men are stuck in their own slang in between butchering the pronunciation of Afrikaans words (Ya boot, it was a lekke joel). The black and coloured communities have accepted some of this slang, while the boers seem to have respectfully abstained from all the boetage, at least when other Afrikaners are around. This is not to say that Joburgers don’t like the sound of their own voice, and if they’re not getting their fix from Highveld Stereo, they spend their time comparing things, like how this restaurant showed up to another or how that event paled in comparison to the previous one. It’s not as moany as Pretorians, and it’s more to show how much they have done than anything else. Only thing they do bitch about is customer service, where they take the city’s motto of “a world-class African city” a little too seriously. Chill out sluts, the food will come when it’s ready.
Aside from the poor road planning, in just about every other way Jozi is structurally a world-class city. Property seems to take up every piece of open ground, with some really fancy places afoot, not to mention those already built. Malls are popping up, like the titanic Mall of Africa, and a whole bunch of other places where yummy mummys can visit Woolworths Food to take a break between working out and wishing they didn’t have children. Complexes have beautiful pools that nobody uses because they are too busy working, and around every corner that isn’t property or a mall, are nature reserves, sports clubs, live venues, and failed restaurants. Just like all big cities around the world.
So what does this all mean? PTA and Jozi seem to be polar opposites (although Pretoria is getting a bit flatcappy with the Tuks influx of Joburgers and Durbanites). It was explained to me that Pretoria is a fantastic town to study in, and Jozi a great place to be a young professional. Despite the fact that the two are fusing, especially since the Gautrain make their distance irrelevant, I believe this to be true. The only problem is, where the hell do you go if you’re not employed? Hopefully, as I find employment in my old age, I’ll have a fuller report for you, but for now, I think I have the right mix: I hit Pretoria on the weekends to see some awesome people and some cheap jols, I’m knocking at the professional door of Johannesburg (albeit with the success of a Jehovah’s Witness), and I return to Witbank occasionally with full knowledge that I don’t have enough money to support the drug problem that plagues most of the locals. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Boet.