Inner City Rejuvenation and Suburban Decay

Spring is in the air. I know this for a number of reasons. One, I keep sneezing like a cat making everyone around me erupt into gales of laughter. Secondly, I drove to work under a series of beautiful V’s as the geese come home. It was breathtaking.

This morning I travelled into the inner city. I haven’t ventured much past Empire Road in the past few years and had to get out the trusty Garmin to direct me through the maze of one-way streets. I ended up at 70 Juta Street in Braamfontein. This has to be one of the city’s hidden gems. It’s a small, eclectic group of stores and designers from the analogue LP salesman to the t-shirt designer. It also boasts a truly excellent coffee shop where I enjoyed the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had and an excellent breakfast for less than 30 bucks. Check it out here http://70jutastreet.wordpress.com/

I rediscovered my city on this little excursion. Sandton, Midrand, Fourways – these are soulless suburbs filled with identical little houses and sterile office spaces. Braamfontein is coming back to life. It is Africa. The area is being rejuvenated while retaining its character and soul.

The main Joburg Library is undergoing massive restructuring and is destined to become once more a centre for learning and literacy. Back in the day my mother would deposit me there after school and tell me that everything I needed to know was hidden in its books if only I dared seek it out. Now after years of neglect and budget cuts, it is going to offer other children access to a world beyond imagining.

If you are wondering what to do on Mandela Day with your 67 minutes, why not clear out your books and donate them to your public library? Find yours here: http://www.joburg.org.za/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=68

All of this lightened my mood considerably. Especially since yesterday afternoon I was devastated to hear that another friend had become a statistic. If you were at News Café Sandton on Wednesday night you may know something that might help apprehend the gang of thieves responsible.

Stepping outside to make a phone call my friend was approached by a group of five or six well dressed African men. By the time his friend had paid the bill and entered the parking lot in front of News Café he was on the ground being systematically kicked in the face and gut. Both men had their shoes, clothes and wallets stolen. My friend’s car was taken from the scene.

Not a single person intervened to help. The security guards decided to turn their backs as well. My friend is now in hospital in ICU with concussion, possible internal injuries and the looming likelihood of facial reconstruction. Needless to say I doubt he’ll be in South Africa much longer. My guess is he’ll be on a plane back to India as soon as he can. I can’t blame him.

I cannot say how much this saddens me. This is beautiful country filled with beautiful people. Ubuntu doesn’t just live for big sporting events. Crime prevention and prosecution isn’t just a publicity stunt. How someone can willfully destroy the life of another, callously take what is not theirs and damage the reputation of our city and country with utter impunity fills me with ill concealed loathing. At least I can take comfort in the fact that the life span of people in their line of work is not particularly long. Pity I can’t do much about making that shorter.

One thing is sure. No-one will be going anywhere fast. There’s no bloody petrol in the city.

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