Jo’burg Rocks!

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The early morning concrete canyons of the Jo’burg CBD – the author’s old haunts.

Words and Pix by Chris Marais & Hilton Hamann

I haven’t been back to Jo’burg in five years – things have been busy down here in the Karoo.

But I’ll tell you one thing: you mustn’t mouth off about the City of Gold to me – ever.

I spent 32 years in that city as a night shift newspaper reporter, magazine editor, freelancer and general lounge lizard.

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The ever-changing Sandton skyline.

I enjoyed the fleshpots of Hillbrow, Yeoville, Melville, Greenside and, occasionally, Sandton in my day.

It’s a young person’s town. And as a young person, I revelled in its vast downtown concrete canyons, its colourful bars and night clubs, its movie houses and malls. And its girls. Oh, its girls.

So obviously my blood boiled when I heard about the Conde Nast Traveler’s recent assessment of Jo’burg as the unfriendliest city in the world.

“It’s the crime,” they say. “The violence.”

Well then they should have a “most violent city in the world” assessment if that’s their yardstick. And in that case I don’t think Jo’burg will even feature in the Top Ten.

Auckland, New Zealand, was voted one of the friendliest cities to be in. I say that’s because lots of ex-Jo’burgers live in Auckland.

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Jo’burg – the city with spunk.

Jo’burg people are possibly the most-mocked group in South Africa. Everybody not from Jo’burg says they’re brash and materialistic and they talk funny.

I’m here to tell you that might be a little bit true (-ish) but they’re also fabulous people to hang out with. They have a great sense of humour, they’re warm and yes, they’re friendly.

They don’t look down their noses at you and they know a good party when they see one.

But as I say, don’t ask me. I haven’t been back there in a while.

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“We’ve worked long and hard to build a successful practice. You get called out at night and have to work on holidays when others are at home with their families.”

Instead, you should visit my mate Hilton Hamann’s great website called JoziFolk.

Long-time photo-journalist Hamann hits the streets, parks, clubs and working spaces of Johannesburg and surrounds, recording the lives of ordinary locals.

He says:

“Every day, we South Africans pass by, giving each other scarcely a glance. But we all have lives, dreams, families, fears and opinions.

“We are strangers and have lost the spirit of community we once had and, with our self-imposed sense of personal isolation, we’ve grown to fear and distrust each other.

“We apply labels to ourselves and others…become “us” and “them” and, in the process, become emotionally impoverished.


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These kids were hanging around a circus that was in town. They were hoping to sneak in when the show started but the owner felt sorry for them. He told them if they picked up the litter around the big-top they could go in for free and sit right in the front.

“We hand the car guard a few coins to watch our car and go on our way, with no idea of who she is, what her life is like, or how she ended up there.

“And ignorance breeds fear and contempt. If we took the time to get to know each other, our lives would be enriched and many of our terrors would evaporate like mist on a summer morning.

“That is what JoziFolk is about. It was initially confined to telling the stories of the people of greater Johannesburg but demand from the rest of the country caused the decision to be made to allow “out-of-towners” to participate.

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“I started working here as an apprentice over 35 years ago and now I own the business!”

“JoziFolk is about learning about the people who occupy this piece of Africa and drawing back the curtain of isolation that hides us, in full view, from each other.

“It’s about actively getting to know people – even if we never meet them in person!

“I invite you to be part of this project. Talk to the people who brush up against your life, no matter how tiny or seemingly insignificant that contact may be, take their pictures, document their stories and – I speak from personal experience – your life will be greatly enriched!  And share with us.”

Visit the JoziFolk site and take a peek into the true soul of the city. Then make up your own mind about its friendliness…

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The people of JoziFolk – get to know them.

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