The United States of Joburg

12 Jan

My trip to Cradlestone Mall today reminded me that Joburg is many countries in one city. I felt somewhat like a Blue State visitor to a Red State town. The West Rand, with its wide spaces, penchant for big, tasteless houses, political conservatism and evangelical Christianity is like Texas, with hints of Colorado and Utah.

In contrast, the Sandton CBD is the equivalent of Manhattan. Rosebank and Killarney also have a whiff of New York City. Melrose and Houghton Estate are probably Westchester, whereas Bryanston is Connecticut. Parktown North is Vermont. The suburbs around the Sandton CBD are LA.

The area around Wits University is probably the equivalent of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Stanley Avenue in Milpark and Melville  are Portland, Oregon.

Maboneng is the meatpacking distract.

Randburg is the flyover states, everything from Ohio to Idaho. Linden, with its creative industries and small hipster population, is Austin, Texas.

Fourways is Arizona. Midrand is Kansas. Like a lot of Joburg, there is no there, there.

Here are some suggestions (feel free to agree or disagree):

The South is New Jersey.

Soweto is Atlanta and Georgia. Also a bit of Chicago.

La Rochelle could be New Orleans.

Kyalami Estate is Wisteria Lane (but then so is Dainfern).


And Hillbrow? Hillbrow is over the border in Tijuana.


We’re not in Sandton anymore, Toto

12 Jan

Earlier today I found myself in a brand new mall in a part of the world I don’t visit very often. Cradlestone near Krugersdorp opened late last year. Shopping malls are microcosms of the society they sell stuff to. Each shopping mall in Joburg is the hub of a particular circle of retail life. Bryanston is traditionally waspy. Fourways is young English-speaking families. Hyde Park and Melrose Arch are full of latter day kugels and the super wealthy. Cresta is where you’ll find many coloured residents and hear lots of Afrikaans. And Rosebank has long been the hangout spot of choice for mixed race couples.

Cradlestone, as you’d expect for a mall based on the West Rand, is much more Afrikaans than any shopping centre in Sandton. You’d never see Patricia Lewis in Sandton:

Patricia Lewis

And you’d probably never see a store called Christian Tees. Continue reading

Why scorpion spotting is the coolest thing ever

9 Jan

Scorpion spotting

Nights in the bush are wonderful and mysterious and just a little scary. The distant roar of a lion. The unearthly shriek of a barn owl. The rustle in the grass of… who knows what. Hyenas laugh, jackals yowl, elephants rumble.  And, if two hippos choose to have a fight across the riverbed, it sounds like the dinosaurs have returned in all their terrible glory.

You can pick up eyeshine with a torch and get divebombed by dung beetles, but all of this takes place in the dark which rolls . So to find something new in the night, something that has been there all along, is extraordinary and wonderful.

All it took was the purchase of a torch from the Khamai Reptile Centre near Hoedspruit. It uses UV light, and scorpions glow under UV light. With a scorpion spotting torch, a stone birdbath is transformed into this:

Scorpion birdbath

A fork in a tree provides the stage for this unearthly tango:

Scorpion dance

Even dead scorpions take on a strange beauty under UV light.

Scorpion beautiful death

These are all pretty harmless scorpions, by the way – Opistacanthus asper – which favour Acacia nigrescens trees because they can hide in the bark and ambush passing insects. They’re cousins of Doris the Knysna scorpion. You can find out more about them in the online version of the scorpion guide book I use here.

If you ever spend time in the great outdoors, consider investing in a UV scorpion torch. It will add a fascinating new dimension to the dark.

What happens when you tweet about paying etolls

8 Jan

etoll response

This afternoon, I queued at a shopping centre in Sunninghill to pay my etolls and tweeted about it. I’d used a car that isn’t registered in my name on the highway, and my family asked me to please sort it out. If the car was mine, I might have been more sanguine about civil disobedience, but this wasn’t strictly up to me.

The response was interesting. It ranged from mockery:

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 2.00.36 PM

to threats of vandalism:

etolls bullying 3

I’ll admit that I thought twice about tweeting about standing in that queue. Then again, I was curious about the response, and since I tweet about being divorced and having bad hair, I might as well tweet about etolls too.

To admit to paying etolls is socially unacceptable in some circles. It marks you as a traitor, and certainly would have back in 2012 and 2013 when the anti-etolling campaign was at its peak.  The tide is definitely shifting though, and judging by the number of people in the queue, I’m one of many:

etoll payers

I braced myself for the bill. Since etolling started in early December, I’ve used the highway several times and been through countless gantries. So when the bill came to under R24, I was – yes – pleasantly surprised.

What’s interesting about this, and what I’ll explore in more detail, is how the debate around etolls has moved from mass civil disobedience, where Sanral was probably the greatest unifying force in the nation, to a sense of resignation. This ship has sailed, and while hardliners might threaten me (some of them really need to join the fake interpreter for a spell in Sterkfontein if they think that committing an actual crime – damage to private property – somehow enhances their case against the government) the battle has been lost. Most people will kak en betaal because the threat of further inconvenience is worse than the threat of being accused of being a veraaier. Already the tide is turning; the queues at Sanral customer service centres are evidence enough of that.

If I were Sanral, I’d be rubbing my hands in glee at the prospect of anti-etolls hardliners threatening members of the public. Nothing makes a bully more sympathetic than excessive aggression by its critics.

How I got bitten by a chameleon

8 Jan

On Monday, I got bitten by a chameleon. This is not the sort of thing that happens often, so let me explain.

As my brother and I drove out of the access control point just off the R40, we noticed a chameleon crossing the road. (Why, we don’t know; presumably to get to the other side.) We avoided squashing him, but we were both worried he wouldn’t survive the journey.  Chameleons make tortoises look like Usain Bolt.

Chameleon crossed road

“We have to save it!” I yelped. My brother put on the hazards, drew to a halt and I leapt out to assist the reptile. He was not happy. Not unreasonably, he assumed I was about to attack him.

First he puffed himself up:

Chameleon 2

Then he gaped to show me the bright orange interior of his mouth and hissed like an angry cat:

Chameleon 3

There was no way to get him out of the road without picking him up. He immediately clamped his jaws shut on my left index finger. Chameleons don’t have teeth, so he couldn’t do much damage. I shrieked with laughter, did a little dance, and deposited him in in the grass on the verge where, I hope, he went on his way no worse for wear.

This was a big chap, as chameleons go – I’d estimate he was over 20cm nose to tail. The red jaw-shaped mark he left on my finger lasted about 15 minutes, the only side effect of the experience. Sadly, I have gained no chameleon powers.


Things we found in the China Shop in Knysna

26 Dec

China Shop Happy bag

I love China Shops. They are an excellent metaphor for the state of consumerism, an outlet for mountains of cheap facsimiles of useful things. They look functional, but break almost immediately.  They are a physical representation of what somebody thinks we want, and they are hideously wasteful. But somebody will buy them because they are there on the shelf, and they have some sort of symbolic exchange value. Barthes would have a field day.

This cap, for instance, came with a price tag of R180: Continue reading

We need this road sign

24 Dec

Several Harleys have just driven down the quiet road on which our B&B is sited. They reminded me, yet again, that there is one very important road sign missing from our regularity arsenal. This one.No doosesa


%d bloggers like this: