Lost in Jozi – Part 1

Sunday Express - - CAREERS & OPPORTUNITIES - ntatesweird­world@gmail.com Ntate Mo­holo’s.com

LAST week, I took a so­journ into the heart­land of Jo­han­nes­burg, pop­u­larly known as Jozi, and was greeted by the most shocking rev­e­la­tion of my life. The South Africa that I knew some 20 years back is not the same any more.

The last time I was in Jozi was when South Africa was just two years into democ­racy. Nel­son Man­dela was in charge, the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was every­where; there were few tsot­sis in town; there were bright lights every­where and you could do your shop­ping peace­fully and en­joy the sur­round­ings. All that is gone.

The town is lit­er­ally in­fested with peo­ple, taxis and ve­hi­cles that make noise of un­prece­dented lev­els. Ev­ery­one is so busy call­ing out for cus­tomers and if you take a taxi it takes you around the city leav­ing you won­der­ing whether you have reached your des­ti­na­tion. And that’s mi­nus the ex­ces­sive over-charg­ing for the jour­ney.

Street ven­dors have over­taken the shops and the stench com­ing from un­col­lected garbage was un­bear­able. Work­ers at the garbage col­lec­tion com­pany called Pik­itup (Pick-it-up?) had gone on strike and the work­ers (who are mostly street peo­ple) had splashed the city of Jozi with trash so their state­ment could be heard.

The strike had been go­ing on for three weeks and no so­lu­tion had been found, so I was told.

Po­lice no longer move around on foot, and if they do they move around in groups of three or more; they too, stand the risk of be­ing shot at. So most of them re­main safely in their bar­ri­caded ve­hi­cles while all sorts of mis­de­meanours con­tinue out­side. They only take ac­tion when there is an armed rob­bery or shootout.

Wel­come to Gaut­eng

When you board a coach at the Maseru Bridge into South Africa you are driven all the way past the Free State coun­try­side into Gaut­eng prov­ince a serene and peace­ful en­vi­ron­ment that makes you want to for­get you are no longer in the Moun­tain king­dom.

The driver plays noth­ing else but our very own famo tra­di­tional mu­sic for the next four to five hours. Things only change when a road sign reads: Wel­come to Gaut­eng Prov­ince.

Af­ter this sign, the road net­work be­comes wider. There are more ve­hi­cles on the criss-cross­ing roads and it’s just amaz­ing how the drive knows which route to take.

You start see­ing the tall grey build­ings from afar and the fa­mous Jo­han­nes­burg icon tower and be­fore you know it you’re in the Jozi. Our coach fi­nally stopped in a dirty al­ley meant for pas­sen­gers go­ing to and from Maseru. I got my bags and won­dered what my next move would be.

I had two choices; ei­ther to find a place to stay in the city or “visit” one of my long-lost cousins in Diep­kloof, Soweto. By the way, it is very un-African to alert rel­a­tives of your in­tended visit, so one can just show up and still be wel­come.

But then I thought, in this mod­ern day they might not even be there or moved to other places in South Africa or worst of all, they might be dead.

So I thought it was best for me to find a place to stay in cen­tral Joburg but that was the worst mis­take I ever made in my life, apart from drink­ing.

What­ever hap­pened af­ter­wards are lessons learnt, that are meant to ed­u­cate my fel­low Ba­sotho about how to stay safely in South Africa in this mod­ern day era.

If you want to sur­vive like I did you have to live by the rules of Jozi and here are some that I de­signed for my­self:

Rule No.1: Be self-con­fi­dent

The first rule I had to live by right from the first day is to be self-con­fi­dent and not to look like a for­eigner. Com­ing from the Moun­tain King­dom, one has to throw away that blan­ket and mu­lamu and dress “ap­pro­pri­ately” when they are in Jozi. Un­like other for­eign­ers from other parts of Africa, Ba­sotho have as­sim­i­lated to the South African cul­ture and that should be our ad­van­tage.

There­fore, when you are in Jozi act like one of them. By do­ing so, you are much safer from be­ing mugged.

No.2: Don’t ask for di­rec­tions

One thing you must never do in Jozi is ask for di­rec­tions to a place, any place for that mat­ter. This I did, and the first per­son I asked if they knew of a rea­son­ably priced ho­tel in the city an­swered to me with a some­what West African ac­cent: “How-much-doyou-have my broda woh?”

Ob­vi­ously, he wanted to have a slice of the lit­tle I had on me. In other words, his idea of “as­sist­ing” me with di­rec­tions for a place I could stay should be re­warded. While we were talk­ing an­other young guy, prob­a­bly a South African, was af­ter me. He grabbed my lug­gage and took me away from the West African guy.

By the time I reached a dinghy-look­ing place in Hill­brow, he asked for R500 which I ob­vi­ously didn’t have. All hell broke loose as the guy threated to stab me with some­thing that looked like a screw­driver. I had to give in.

Rule No.3: There are no rules

Hav­ing en­coun­tered a rough first-night out I de­cided to move out and live by the jun­gle. They say in a jun­gle only the fittest an­i­mal sur­vives and Jozi is one such place, there­fore I de­vised my third sur­vival tac­tic — that there are no rules. And if they do ex­ist, they shall be bro­ken.

Hill­brow is not for the faint-hearted. Here every­thing is mov­ing at a fast pace. It is here that you find bars and gam­bling houses open 24/7 and the ladies of the night do not only op­er­ate at night; they do so even in day­time.

Add to that, blocks of derelict build­ings where peo­ple live and the con­stant sound of po­lice sirens re­mind of movies such as the South African block­buster movie Tsotsi. I did sur­vive the first night and other days that fol­lowed though.

One of the most dan­ger­ous places to go through when you are in the mid­dle of Jozi is the MTN taxi rank. Here you en­counter touts shout­ing for you to board taxis, you also see “street kids” in their 20s ask­ing for money to buy food or “vol­un­teer­ing” to look af­ter your car.

I am still here, hav­ing spent over a week in Jozi and I can safely say I am learn­ing the sur­vival skills of stay­ing here by the book. Next week I shall, in great de­tail, nar­rate of my ex­pe­ri­ences here. I know I will make it for as long as I can­not live by the rules. Till next week, Ha re ee! -ntatesweird­world@gmail.com

What­ever hap­pened af­ter­wards are lessons learnt, that are meant to ed­u­cate my fel­low Ba­sotho about how to stay safely in South Africa in this mod­ern day era.

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