Category Archives: Johannesburg

A Capetonian in Joburg: First impressions

I’ve been here nearly two weeks after our “semigration” from my home city of Cape Town. Most of it’s been spent unpacking boxes, drinking too much whisky and driving around the megalopolis trying to find decent furniture.

In da area

The GPS has taken me through Mayfair, similar to the rougher parts of Woodstock with its seedy slum feel, and a suburb called Blairgowrie, which could have been directly transplanted from Cape Town’s Plumstead.

Then there was Fourways. Fourways defies comparison, but imagine Parklands mixed with Belville, multiply by 20 and wave a Tuscan wand over it.

I know it’s unfair and probably more than a little inaccurate to draw parallels with Cape Town areas, but hey, it gives me a sense of order. Desperately needed in a place that seems to sprawl and disseminate itself without end.

I visited Parkhurst and felt like the démodé cousin from a less stylish country. New Zealand perhaps.

Oriental Plaza was far more fun and affordable for someone who’s spent numerous days of her life hunting bargains at Access Park. It’s a bit rougher and much bigger than Access Park, with more Indian clothing and less sombre Muslims.

The coconut samoosas from World of Samoosas are incredible, and I sat in the sun quite happily munching five or six of them.

Rays! Golden rays!

Ah yes, the sun. The Joburg weather in general really. Yes, it’s very cold at night, but the days are magnificent for someone who only knows July and August as raining, grey, sleeting or storming.

How can I explain the simple joy of putting on lipgloss without having to check the wind speed first? Or hanging up a load of laundry and having it dry in one day?

Unfortunately this dryness also extends to lips, skin, sinuses and even my eyeballs – I used a pack of CelluFresh and a tub of Body Shop Shea Body Butter in a week. Still, worth it for the 22-degree midday high.

How can we help you?

Then there’s the usual question – are Joburgers really friendlier? Well, yes, largely by dint of socialising like the world’s going to end tomorrow. I’ve gone out more in the past two weeks than I would in two months at home.

Joburgers have also been incredibly welcoming and helpful to a one-city woman who feels rather misplaced and clumsy at this altitude. And, unlike Capetonians, nobody asks, “What school did you go to?” within five seconds of meeting you.

But despite its cliquishness and miserable winters, I still miss my Cape Town – crazy family and friends, all the best restaurants within a 5km radius, surfing at Muizenberg and Big Bay, strolling down Long Street on Saturday morning, sundowners over the Atlantic…

So to avoid being a sulky and morose émigré, I’m going to discover and embrace all the fantastic little things about living here. Like the fact my Cape Town apartment could fit into the bedroom of my Joburg one. Or that virtually every restaurant has halloumi on the breakfast menu. And that Mozambique is within driving distance.

One of my best friends, a fellow Capetonian-in-Joburg, keeps telling me, “This is an adventure for a couple of years. Then we’ll be home.”

He’s right. And I’m going to do, see, touch, taste and experience as much of it as I can. Starting with those coconut samoosas.

Moving to Joburg

I dreamt about horses last night. According to the dream books this is indicative of a “highly stressful time of change”. Huh, it should have been a hundred wild stallions then. This moving to Joburg business is rather taxing and I’ve run out of single malt whisky. Fuck.

Bitching and whining aside, I’m pretty excited. A whole new city! New people! New restaurants! New bars! And, since it’s not Cape Town, nobody asking me where I went to school!

We’ve also found an incredibly beautiful, massive flat (three times the size of our Cape Town one) in an historic block we love, plus we have our friends as neighbours. Friends with a vastly manifold book collection and lots of single malt whisky. Sorted.

As for surfing, I’ve been assured of surf trips to Durban and Mozambique. For periods in between, I’m taking up tennis again. I have a mean forehand that’s served me well in advertising when client service needed a klap.

Ah yes, advertising. Eight years in the industry has been incredibly good to me, but it’s time for a change. Time to freelance, write more, read more, study more. To be the master of my own destiny and all that. Time to start something new… Or in the immortal words of retail copywriters – “Watch this space!”

See you in a few weeks Jozi. xx

Our new home in Joburg. Rather pretty, yes?

Jozi has soul (and golden hearses)

I’m a Capetonian. I’ve never lived anywhere else, except for those three years in Grahamstown that turned me into a socialist (Dad still wishes I’d just gone to UCT and done a BCom). I love the sea, the mountains, the people. I adore Long Street and the Promenade.

Despite this, Johannesburg has always held a strange allure for me. Other Capetonians think I’m ill or blame it on the fact I was born in Benoni.

Bungee-jumping in Orlando (not Florida)

I think it’s because the sprawling megalopolis has a layer of grit under its gloss. Unlike Cape Town’s comely winsomeness, Joburg’s beauty is all angles – sharp and unforgiving. It’s also heavy with history, a large part of that residing in Soweto.

So when our recently emigrated Capetonian friends organised a a tour of it all, I was as excited as the hadeda outside my window at 5am.

Hearse to Soweto

So-where-to now?

Ah, Soweto. A name that was invented via a public competition, the prize money being 10 pounds. Idiosyncratic and surprising, it’s a community of heartbreak, hope… and guys mowing the lawn on a Saturday morning.

Parking off

I was astounded by how much housing there is, even in the poorer areas, and the manicured green parks that accompany it. During apartheid Soweto residents weren’t allowed trees or bushes (terrorists could hide behind them), but they’re definitely making up for it now.

In Cape Town we have the dreary N2 Gateway Project buffered by 40 kilometres of shack, shacks, shacks. Yes, the DA runs the city well – if you live in the suburbs.

Sigh, tourists

First we visited the Freedom Charter Monument at Walter Sisulu Square, Kliptown, where Alistair and Chris were nearly kidnapped by Amway representatives and ended up buying Obama T-shirts. We then went on to the Regina Mundi Church, where students took shelter during the 1976 uprisings. You can still see the bullet holes in the ceiling.

Madonna and Child of Soweto, by Laurence Scully

Next was Nelson Mandela’s house in Vilakazi Street and the Hector Petersen Museum, designed by the same firm that created the exceptional Apartheid Museum.

8115 Vilakazi Street

It was a very full and emotional morning. I could describe how overwhelming it was, how I shed a tear in the church, how proud I was of everything we’ve achieved and how saddened I was by the distance we still have to go. But I think it’s an experience that can’t be shared, only felt for yourself.

Outside the Hector Petersen Museum

The big bad city

After Soweto, we went for pap ‘n wors in Newtown. Hey, if you’re going to be a tourist you may as well embrace it.

Can I see your wors?

After lunch our wonderful tour guide, Dorothy, took us to the Standard Bank offices. I was confused. Is Joburg so money-oriented that this qualifies as an attraction? But inside the building there’s an old mining tunnel – Ferreira’s mine – that was discovered during construction.

Wheelbarrow rides at Standard Bank

One of my favourite non-fiction books is Diamonds, Gold & War by Martin Meredith, which details the discovery of gold and the ensuing madness that preambled apartheid. So it was quite something to step into an elevator in the middle of the city and go down into a shallow stope.

We then went to the top of Carlton Centre. It gave us a mild case of vertigo and a true idea of how massive Joburg is. I loved it.

The high altitude made Amanda grin deliriously

Our tour ended at Constitution Hill. It’s wonderfully fitting that we could just stroll into the place that guards our democracy. There were plenty of interesting décor choices inside the actual court and mesmerising pieces of art just outside it. The toilets were clean enough for a constitutional too.

The watercooler gazed longingly at the musician

As we stepped out into the Highveld sunshine to make our way home, there was a flock of small birds nibbling at tourist leftovers and I thought, “Wow. Even the animals like Joburg.”

Constitution + Hill

- See more photos on my flickr account.


*If you want to do a Jozi tour (and you really should if you’ve read this far), get Dorothy of D’s Tours & Transfers to take you – email dtours@polka.co.za or call 082 444 3604. She’s fantastic.

Things that made me smile this month

  • Wandering around the rest of the museum and feeling just like a kid again.
  • Two-for-one cocktails with Kate at Neighbourhood, discussing life, love, in-laws and the vagaries of advertising.
  • A phonecall from MSF to thank me for my donation and keep me informed of their work in Haiti.
  • Funny holiday photos I hadn’t seen yet.
  • Saying sorry for something I should have apologised about ages ago.
  • Teaching a beautiful redhead toddler how to get all the foam out of her babycchino cup.
  • The same little girl asking for bits of my omelette breakfast, the sweet cherry tomatoes in particular (she obviously has good taste).
  • Talks with the ‘Byn, a brilliant woman who I admire and respect more than any other.
  • Fruit & Flowers, Thrupps, fresh fish, braai, swimming and meeting many incredible people in Joburg.
  • Futurama dolls. Unfortunately they belong to Chris and I couldn’t distract him long enough to steal Bender.
  • Back rubs, hugs and kisses. X.
  • My husband stroking my forehead when I was ill.
  • A great annual review with my Creative Director.
  • Finding out that my colleagues are a bit scared of me and think I’m good at what I do.
  • Sea of Love by Cat Power (and the rest of the Juno soundtrack).
  • My mother’s face when she opened her birthday gift.