“How have you got to the age of 33 without ever coming to joburg?” my colleague asked as we navigated around the parking garage trying to find our rental car. I’ve been asked that a lot lately. Most people find it bizarre, but really – it’s rather simple.
I’m from Cape Town – actually a town 50km outside of Cape Town and while I always claimed the city as my own, it now pisses me off when people who quite clearly live 50km out of Cape Town do the same. I grew up in Somerset West from the age of 3, and then… when I was 18 I moved 15km down the road to Stellenbosch University. Wine, oak trees, a couple classes and a lot of coffee crammed into 3 years, I left Stellenbosch and headed straight to London. Where I stayed…. for 6 and a half years (yes, that was longer than I originally thought too).
Ofcourse i came home during those years, but why would you stop in Joburg when your home, the mountain, the ocean, the wine farms (and all the stuff on pretty postcards) were all in the Cape?
Don’t be mistaken, I have flown via OR Tambo plenty times (it’s hard not to when you are addicted to travel like I am) and I’ve visited Pretoria for a couple nights here and there (my nieces sport an awesome gauteng accent!) but nope, I’ve never hung out at Sandton City or Hyde Park. Until now.
Joburg has been built up by everyone who has lived there before (or originally from there and now find themselves in the Cape), and broken down by the Capetonians who begrudgingly have to go there weekly for work. I was expecting a big city, smog, loads of traffic, lots of fashion and friendly people… in a nutshell.
We must’ve arrived at the right (wrong?) time but Gilloolys Interchange and William Nichol and all the traffic issues I hear about daily, didn’t exist. We travelled from the airport with my colleague, originally from the West Rand, explaining areas and people and what was before and is now while pointing out the east (Edenvale?), the Witwatersrand (the edge of something?) and Alexandra township all the while I lost my sense of direction.
I know, I’m a girl and we’re mostly useless at directions. Except I’m not. Well, I really don’t think I am. Maps and me, we get along well and I hardly ever actually get lost (even though I’ll claim it if I spent a bit longer than anticipated somewhere and arrive late somewhere else), but without a landmark, a big shining beacon (I prefer of the flat variety) – how the eff do you Joburg folk know where you’re going?
It was while I searched earnestly for my landmark (apparently there are three towers you can see from some points along the highway leading from the airport to Sandton) I realised just how… umm… brown everything was. And unpretty. Now, if you were going to judge Cape Town just on your arrival and trip into town, it’s also hardly pretty – but I guess the mountain distracts you.
Anyway, I don’t want to judge and, after all,… I’m in Johannesburg. And that’s flipping exciting in my books (I realise how bizarre that sounds given I’ve just arrived back from Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, but… It was).
Lunch. At Tasha’s in Melrose Arch. That was, pretty much what I’ve been waiting for. I could’ve just gone straight back to the airport there and then. It’s what the handful of Joburg friends all seem to do (although I think they ‘breakfast’ more than they ‘lunch’). And now I’ve done it too! I’m strangely high school like that.
Absolutely no different to Tasha’s in Constantia, except for the really friendly guy I met in the bathroom (it’s a unisex, but there was that awkward moment when we both weren’t sure). On the friendly note – shop assistants, people, everyone. Super friendly. Cape Town could take a tip here. (Love Cape Town, but shit – smile at the person next to you in the queue while you’re waiting for you skinny flat white perhaps?)
Sandton City, the place where the buildings are just dripping in gold. Basically, it was actually built on a gold mine. Or so I thought my entire childhood. And not far off – a beautiful mall filled with beautiful things. I don’t like to shop, but I could’ve spent all day there. Two days. In fact, I could book a weekend in Joburg just to go shop there. This may not mean much, but for someone like me – this is big.
I was in Joburg for work (most of which was evening focus groups). This means that I didn’t really get to see or do or go out much. I also didn’t venture further than Sandton and Hyde Park (which, if I’m honest, I prefer the original English version of, even to the crazy stupid expensive shopping mall which impressed me far less than it should’ve. I’m just not that girl. And yes, I totally had an awkward Pretty Woman moment where I thought I was going to be asked to take my woolies-dressed self out of a store.)
The walls are high, the electric fencing is obvious, money is far from scarce. It’s more leafy and suburban than I imagined, with offices and buildings dropped between mansions, townhouse and flats. Where does the city end and residential begin? Nowhere. It’s all thrown together (in Sandton anyway). Joburg people are (as us capetonians are always reminded of) friendly. It’s a social place where hanging out with friends is what you do – at a mall (sneaking suspicion this happens alot), or eating out, or in. It doesn’t seem to be a place for loners, or a place you would be lonely in.
The unfortunate part about being in Joburg for just two nights and for work, and with a colleague… is that you don’t get to see the magic of what all those ex-Joburgers have talked about (and that your opinion formed of it, may be somewhat skewed).
I didn’t get to visit Parkhurst for coffee, or Nelson Mandela Square for lunch or the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein (these were all on my well-researched list). Mostly I’m sad that I never got to experience a thunderstorm (apparently only available in Summer) and dance in the rain (apparently a warm summer rain dance is a must).
But, even with its potential and my indulgence in Sandton… in just two days I missed my mountain. I missed seeing the harbour. There is something insanely special about a quiet walk on the prom, alone. And I think that’s the biggest difference. Cape Town offers the ability to find peace in solitude. You sometimes only need yourself, or one other. Climb the mountain, walk in a forest, visit the beach or stroll the prom. (You can also do all these things with friends, and I’m not against that – I think I just like the peace and quiet sometimes).
I reckon Joburg is fun, exciting and social (and would be incredible in a thunderstorm) – but maybe it’s not for me because nothing is as amazing as coming home to Cape Town.