The corner with the water leak and the stripped electricity box. With the broken robots and the Somali spaza shop. On the street where kids play barefoot soccer and use bricks as goalposts.
This is my Jo’burg.
But I don’t know how I feel about you anymore.
I’ve noticed a change in the city’s atmosphere (and it’s not just the air quality). I can’t articulate it, but something changed after the hard lockdowns. It became more pronounced after the attempted insurrection and looting. Then Stage 6 load-shedding just drove the unease to the surface.
Like any complicated relationship, these feelings are tumultuous. It’s always been love/hate, but something has shifted.
Are we falling out of love with Jo’burg?
A while ago, I met up with two of my friends – two ardent Jo’burg lovers – and I was surprised to hear how they’re struggling to feel positive about the place. I was both relieved and deeply concerned.
I felt the same, but if long-time Jozi lovers feel bleak, how is everyone else navigating the potholes, stolen cables, and broken reservoir pumps?
Jo’burg, I’ve been cheating on you; I’ve been looking at other places to live.
I’ve even considered Cape Town, it’s that bad. You know I had a dalliance with her years ago. Lately, I’m thinking maybe I’ve changed, and we could make it work this time around?
I’m not the only one.
According to a report, between 2016 and 2021, the Western Cape gained nearly 300 000 people. Net in-migration contributed to almost half the total population growth. It’s estimated that due to ‘semigration’, the Western Cape will overtake Gauteng’s GDP per capita by 2040 (or sooner).
That’s insane, considering a quarter of South Africa’s population currently lives in Gauteng (all 14.3 million of us), but 11.5% lives in the Western Cape (that’s 6.5 million Capetonians).
Anecdotally I know of a few people – Joziphiles no less – who have moved further south. Probably because “it’s still South Africa, but you can pretend you don’t live in South Africa by enjoying one less stage of load-shedding” (as comedian Nik Rabinowitz said at the ‘Move to the Cape expo’ in December last year. Yes, there’s an expo).
According to journalist Sarah Smit in an article entitled Semigration: A tale of two South Africas, this increase in migration can be attributed to Covid-19. For many people it meant the beginning of the end, like job losses and a big slide backwards in the lifestyle they’d become accustomed to. But for others, says Smit, the pandemic paradoxically brought “an opportunity to escape Johannesburg’s hard edge in favour of a softer, less backbreaking, lifestyle”.
So here I am, Jo’burg. What must I do? Move to the Cape? Because you don’t make it easy.
Yesterday I literally googled ‘falling out of love with Joburg’. Turns out that last month the Mail & Guardian ran a couple of articles with that very theme. So, there must be something distinctly unlovable in the water (but it’s not cholera).
Both articles lamented the loss of love but maintained that all is not yet lost.
In Jo’burg, There’s Still Life in the Old Skelm, Drew Forrest writes:
“I have no plans to emigrate or join the Little Trek to the ‘Mother City’, with its insufferably cultish attitude to its mountain and its whales […]. Traffic still flows, despite the dead traffic lights. Supermarket shelves are full. The generator’s purr has become the defiant anthem of suburbia.”
In The Indescribable Allure of Johannesburg, Luke Feltham ends with:
“We haven’t fallen out of love with Joburg. We are just really, really pissed off.”
I’m really, really pissed off. Have I fallen out of love?
Does a long-term relationship take work?
A distant volley of bullets and a full moon, a preacher on a park bench, a patch of bullrushes that extend through the asphalt.
This is my Jo’burg.
It’s backbreaking with a hard edge. I resent you because you expect so much from me; you can be unreasonable and difficult to live with.
I don’t know what’s next, but I know we need to work on things to get through this – otherwise another city might entice me.
Jo’burg, I don’t know what else to say to you. Except that you make me think of a song by R.E.M that Michael Stipe wrote about New Orleans, just after Katrina: