Tag Archives: Cape Town

One year in Joburg

This Sunday marks one year since Alistair, Boo and I packed up our Cape Town lives for the bright lights and big city of Jozi. Well, bright lights isn’t completely accurate due to regular power cuts, although the spectacular sunsets more than make up for it.

The first six months were a bit rough on my Capetonian sensibilities, but I grow to love Joburg more every day. This city has tested and stretched me in so many ways. It’s made me tougher, more honest with myself and, oddly, less spoilt. If you’d told me in Cape Town that I’d have to drive 40 minutes to work every day, I would have said “Never!”

I’ve had a few unlucky experiences, almost like the city was testing me:

  • 1 x smash-and-grab
  • 1 x bribe request from JMPD
  • 1 x truck landing on my car with me in it
  • Really crappy summer weather

However, the good stuff has been really, really good:

  • Lots of amazing new friends
  • 3 x very close girlfriends who I adore
  • 4 x fantastic trips to Zim, Moz and Clarens
  • 2 x great jobs with super-talented people
  • Book launches, dinners, music and wine

I haven’t been to Cape Town since February and I think that’s helped. Living between cities may sound glamorous, but a little commitment goes a long way. In fact, after saying for the past year that “I won’t buy property in Joburg”, Al and I have now bought a beautiful 177m2 flat in Killarney.

Many Capetonians have blinkers on when it comes to Joburg. They want to stay where they’ve always been, whereas living in Joburg makes you want to go everywhere – and the rewards have been worth it. I feel like I’ve become a grown-up. I’m more confident, less melodramatic and stronger as a person.

We will return to Cape Town one day. If I have kids, I want them surrounded by family like I was. But until then, I’m really looking forward to three or four more years in Jozi.

Living in Joburg, 2010

Six months ago, Alistair, Boo and I arrived in Jozi from Cape Town. No, I did not burst into tears (those came later) or ask where the mountain was. I was keen for a “new adventure” and happy I didn’t need a job right away. I’ve always been one of those Capetonians who like Joburg (we exist), but visiting a place and actually living there are two different things.

Before the move I became very tired of people who’d lived in Cape Town their whole life, except for that “horizon-broadening” gap year in the UK, always reacting to news of our impending move with one of the following:

  • “Oh God, but why?”
  • “Oh shame, why?”
  • “Oh no, how can you live somewhere like that?”
  • “Joburg? I couldn’t live without the mountain and the sea.”

The last comment was inevitably spoken by someone who went to the beach once every three months, except in summer of course. How did they think I felt as a surfer who went every weekend?

We spent our last night in Cape Town in our small, empty flat in Gardens. We slept very badly on a blow-up mattress. Seven years of memories and freezing tiles kept me awake. I thought of all the parties, the dinners, the friendships made in this home.

I went onto our massive wraparound balcony and stared at the rain-shrouded Table Mountain like I had a thousand times before, moving my eyes over Lion’s Head and the city. Gentle, wild, comforting.

Five months later I would be at a book launch on the roof of the Lister Building in Jeppe Street, watching a thunderstorm break over the angles and grit of Jozi skyscrapers, the vastness of it making for a different wildness; an industrial beauty I appreciated simply because it was so alien. I felt love.

But the first few months were brittle and brutal. I missed my family and friends. I missed stepping out my front door and being able to walk five minutes and find myself in Long Street or Deer Park. I missed the smell of the sea. I missed the call to prayer from the mosques in Bo-Kaap. I missed how close everything was. I missed the noon day gun.

The saving grace was Joburg’s welcome brigade. I’ve socialised more in the past five months than I did in Cape Town in five years. Someone is always ready for a drink, a dinner, a coffee, a lunch. People call each other. I like it.

I also like how oblique everything is – the hills, the roads, the trees, the buildings. Cape Town’s physicality is overt, but Joburg’s beauty is always surprising. It requires discovery. It is a mosaic up close. I dislike Joburg being referred to as “The Big Smoke”; it’s too tired and uninvolved an expression for such a complex place.

Living in Joburg, I now know a few things I previously did not:

  • Who “the mielie lady” is and why people find her annoying.
  • Why people complain about taxis so much.
  • Joburgers talk about the traffic the same way Capetonians talk about the weather.
  • How green Joburg is and how ridiculously pretty jacarandas are.

Next week I go back to my city for three weeks. Yes, it’s still my city. My soul resides in the waves of Blouberg and Muizenberg, that won’t change. But my heart has opened to Joburg, a foreign lover thats oddly familiar and still so unexplored. 2011 will be an even greater adventure.

Joburg Drivers vs Cape Town Drivers

We all know the popular South African aphorism – “Joburg has better drivers than Cape Town.” Even staunch, I-could-never-live-anywhere-else Capetonians say this. I certainly have.

We embrace our crappy driving and wear it as a mark of pride. There is no need for a sense of direction when you can just look up at the mountain to figure out where you are. Hurry? Why hurry? It’s not like anything is that far away. Indicate? Why indicate? You can only go one of three ways.

After six weeks of driving extensively around Joburg, I’ve noticed that Cape Town drivers are actually better in three ways:

  • Freeways: In Cape Town people moan if someone ‘sits’ in the right-hand lane. That doesn’t exist here. Joburg drivers have never even heard of “Keep Left, Pass Right”. It’s just “Pick A Lane, Any Lane”.
  • Traffic circles: I keep getting hooted at when I go through traffic circles. Why? Joburg drivers treat them as 4-way stops. The concept of “Yield to the right” has not trekked north yet.
  • Manners: Road users are more, er, “assertive” in Gauteng. The only people who let me in when I’m stuck behind a truck are the taxi drivers. Although I am driving around with a CA licence plate so maybe that has something to do with it.

All that said, Joburg still wins the Better Drivers Award for the following reasons:

  • A green light means go immediately – not 10 seconds later.
  • Indicators aren’t decorative.
  • Suburban roads are expertly navigated, despite enormous potholes and a million badly marked speedbumps.
  • There are less POSs* on the road and consequently less breakdowns blocking the freeway.

*POS – Piece Of Shit

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.