Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is me, today, in Johannesburg, and my heart is on fire...

What is it like to be in Johannesburg right now?

So you're sitting in Cheshire or Canada, or fucking Australia, and you're watching some telecast or reading some damn netcast about violence in South Africa, and you're saying, "Those poor bastards." What is it like to be living and working in Johannesburg, in South Africa, right now?

Well, on the way to work the streets are filled with crowds, throwing eggs at the cars, rolling those over that they can, setting some alight, you just have to drive as quickly as you can, and if you run pedestrians over its just collateral damage. Then you run the gauntlet on the way home. It's a war zone. Columns of smoke climb into the still baby blue sky all day like so many chains, and while you work, you worry: they're out there, waiting for me. Will I die today?

That's probably what people who don't live in South Africa imagine based on what they see in the papers and on CNN. Honestly, I live in Johannesburg and if I didn't read the newspapers, watch TV or surf the net, I would have no clue what was happening in the poor areas of Johannesburg. It's out of sight. For those of us fortunate enough to live in leafy suburbs like Houghton and Melrose Arch, we're a fair way away from all the bloody action. So today was just like any other day, driving to work, having lunch, buy a magazine at the mall, drive back, go to gym, have dinner, watch TV - except the news reports indicate something is up.

And that's really reality in South Africa. The wealthy and the poor live disconnected from each other, with a few exceptions at a few intersections. Commuters see squatters beside some highways. And poor beggars approach people in their cars at some major intersections in the business centre of the city. Some hand out flyers or sell newspapers or sunglasses. Other hold up boards begging for money. Some give, most don't, because a figure beside your window could also be a hijacker. people here are wary of crime, even though the poor are far worse affected than those with electrified perimeter fencing.

And what about the Xenophobia? Is it real? What's the deal? Well I'll tell you, where I live the girl who cleans my place is from Zimbabwe, her husband is too - he works in the garden and helps the landlady...recently helped her build a second car garage...and paints friend up the road has a security guard from Zimbabwe, and at Pick n Pay the guys who fetch the trolleys are also from Zimbabwe. Why are so many Zimbabweans working like this, where are the South Africans then?

...the Zimbabweans [who] are popular with local employers because many are well educated, speak good English and are seen as working harder than South Africans.

What's also very bizarre and interesting is the best news story I have read, the best assessment I've seen of what's happening, is from a United Kingdom based source, The Guardian. The italicised quote above is from Chris McGreal's article. It's about Johannesburg, it's accurate to a T, but it appeared 10 000km away in England. Here I am in South Africa and the best news I have read I found on the internet at a UK based portal on the other side of the world. At the same time, a lot of traffic is googled towards South Africa in a sort of blind way, based on search criteria like 'Johannesburg' and 'violence'. But Google can just as easily Google you to this story Thousands seek sanctuary as South Africans turn on refugees
and as I say, it's from a UK based publication.

This says a lot about the future and functionality of news. Even local news can be sourced elsewhere, at another site to where it actually happens. It just depends where it is posted to, and with the technology that we have, location becomes irrelevant. Or does it?
The only time location is relevant is when we want constant up to the minute, virtually LIVe on the ground, hands on, feet on the ground ongoing assessments of what is happening. Who fulfills this role? Newspapers? No. Bloggers? Yes. Here's the best blog story I have read on this topic:
This is us. Welcome to South Africa

On my way back from work, I left at about 6pm, I thought I'd head to the Old Eds Gym, which is fairly close to the centre of the city, but still in the wealthier northern suburbs not far from where I live. I thought I'd run for 40 minutes. I get to the gym and the place is packed. About a 1000 cars, the green floodlit fields filled with people playing soccer, and when I walked by the window at the front of the gym, it was obvious that the gym was filled to capacity - every treadmill taken. I turned around and went home, but as I approached my car I saw a sexy blonde girl, very lithe frame, jogging neatly beside me around the soccer pitches, about 3 of them. I glanced at my shorts and iPod in my hand. The evening was a bit chill, but jogging in the open air around these fields might not be such a bad idea the next time I come here and all the treadmills are taken. The fact that I only had shorts, and the temperatures were around 18 made me decide to throw in the towel.

Driving out of the parking lot I wondered: Are these people aware or even affected by the violence and bloodshed happening probably about 20-50km away in the townships? They have their jobs, their TV dinners, and television waiting for them around the corner. They're focused on getting fit and looking good. That's where their minds are. How good do I look? They're ambitious,wealthy, hard working and driven. They also don't want to be bothered by 'negativity'. That's South Africa, schizophrenic, bad, ugly, but also good.

How can you get an on the ground assessment of what it's like to be in Johannesburg right now. You look at blogs like this one. And the news you can get anywhere else, and eventually you'll learn to trust certain sites for specific content, and you'll discover some sites just tend to have better content than others. In the UK it's The Guardian and the Telegraph, in the US it's the New York Times and Washington Post, sometimes MSNBC and WIRED has good stuff. A blogs are a matter of personal preference, who you know, where they are, and your sense of connection to them and their community.

SAfrica violence 'forces 13,000 to flee homes'
Above image courtesy John Hrusa/EPA

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yup. 1.5 k's UP the road from my house, terrified people are camping out at the cop station with their little kids. It's packed full. 1.5 k's DOWN the road from my house, botoxed people are sitting sipping skinny lattes at a coffee shop. It's packed full.