July 31, 2009


I’m all for name change – definitely, 100%. Let’s do it NOW.

But not the complicated ones like Pretoria, a.k.a Tswane, where history, prejudice and general intolerance will have the politicians deliberating until pigs fly… By the way, they said that would happen the day the USA got a black president, and presto – pig’s flu!

No, let’s start with the obvious one – let’s start with Africa’s powerhouse. The continent’s financial and industrial hub. Let’s start with Johannesburg! Also fondly known as Jozi, or Jo’burg, Egoli, and I’ve even heard murmurs of Azania... all rubbish names! All flat and pathetic.

I spent the past week there and I think it’s unfair that Superman has Metropolis, Batman has Gotham City, Chuck Norris has the entire state of Texas, and a population of superheroes up there have to be content with “Jozi”… it’s just not right.

To understand a wee bit about Jo’burg, and therefore my quest, you have to see where I come from: a quaint little village where people start their day when they feel like it, wave to their neighbours in the street if they can muster the energy, and anything – like a bird farting – can easily be construed as an event worthy of celebrating with a glass of wine. People call each other ‘bru’, ‘my friend’, or ‘dude’ and there’s a general consensus that nothing is important enough that it can’t wait till tomorrow. Life has a certain pace: languid.

But the name is apt: Hermanus… say it twice and you’re asleep.

Jozi’s different! Jozi’s frickin’ frenetic: zoom-zoom-swish-peep-crash-boom-oops-sorry-*&#**@-bang-bang-ahhh…. and that’s a typical day before breakfast… for a toddler!

People call each other by cool superhero names like Boytjie, China, Siyaya-Sam, Cousin, Amakosi and Leonard!

They don’t drive – they fly! Mazda can’t sell one single car in Jozi because “zoom-zoom” just don’t cut it here. If you can’t go zip-zip-zip-swoooosh, you’re doomed.

You’ve heard of the fast lane? These guys have three!

We wear sunglasses. A true Jozi superhero wears a windscreen – big, bold, black visors that not only block out harmful rays that other alien planets can launch at them, but also allows a clear (and possibly X-ray) view of the road ahead – which, of course, is always cluttered with useless drivers from Boksburg. They live on cigarette smoke – and don’t care (because only poefs from Durban get lung cancer). You can’t blame them – cigarette smoke is the constant. If they didn’t have that, they would be overwhelmed by the nuances that is Jo’burg’s atmosphere – the breathable one. And which superhero today has time for that?

It’s the only place I know where I could actually see and taste what I was breathing – a fascinating experience. Where I come from air is boring: it’s invisible and always seems to carry a bit of ocean breeze. Smells slightly of olive trees. When I get too much of it my head starts to spin – and that can’t be good. Who needs that anyway when in Jo’burg a new experience is just a breath away? What Paris is to the palate, Jo’burg is definitely to the lungs – an overwhelming experience with every breath!

Seriously, these people are fantastic… not in a “hey dude, you’re a wonderful guy”-kinda way. Hell no, more like the “Spiderman-Captain America-and-Wolverine-rolled-into-one”-way complete with spandex and bright underpants.

Why Egoli? Why Jozi? Let’s call the place Ama-Vezuvius, Nieu-Sparta, or Nova Galactica – something fierce and friendly, worthy of these super-beings.

I grew up here, but must admit I have neglected and eventually forgotten most of the customs and traditions that makes one truly Jozi. Like their overwhelming friendliness that welcomes any newcomer to their city. In 3 days I was fortunate enough to spend half my time among other motorists on the extensive network of roadways, highways and byways – some under construction of which Carmen the Garmin (my GPS) had absolutely no prior knowledge. But it was good, it was fun, it was Jozi in all its glory!

You HAVE to make friends in traffic – it’s pure logic: in Jozi, to get to work on time, you have to leave your house at a specific time (usually before the cock crows), fly a specific route, at a specific speed, for a set time, to the exact same place you work at, every day. And back.

So does any other superhero strong enough to call this place home.

Therefore, logic dictates that you will meet the same heroes, at the same times, on the exact same spots and intersections, on a daily basis – you’re gonna make friends! I saw it – on three different days, at exactly the same time, in three different places, but it was all the same: they knew each other’s lives intimately. They knew families and relatives – they would blow their horns while shouting comments about each others mothers and sisters, generally accompanied by what I assume to be some sort of secret-superhero-salute: a raised fist with a single digit pointing straight at the heavens and a courteous (what sounded like) “thank you”.

I was so fortunate to be part of this experience, the camaraderie – a oneness we would never fathom in the sleepy little fishing village I call home. Not wanting to miss out on this singular opportunity, I couldn’t help but be swept away in the euphoria of acceptance. I started hooting along, saluting everyone in sight: hoot-salute-“thank you!” hoot-salute-“thank you!” and so on. To anyone in sight, especially those who I thought could do with a little extra cheer. It was wonderful! They must’ve known I was from another world because everyone – every single one – reciprocated with a hoot-salute-“thank you too!”

At one point it got so exciting that this one guy got out of his car and rushed over to salute me – it was great: me inside the car saluting and him outside where everyone could see him saluting his head off – his face turning red with the exertion of trying to string all those “thank you’s” together. I suppose he was so excited about meeting a real live Capie that he ran back to his car, whipped out his new cricket bat, and ran back to show me – he must’ve been a sporting hero. Unfortunately the light had turned green and I had to shoot off before he got back – afraid of annoying any of my new friends.

Super people – I love them, I love Jozi!

It was during these special hours that I realized I was a mere mortal among a race of superheroes. Among beings that never conformed, who lived by their own rules, creating them as they went along – a people who laugh in the face of Death... who now has a security escort when visiting Jozi (two of his previous chariots were hijacked and are currently operating a taxi route between Benoni and Springs – very popular! You’d think it would feel weird riding around in that, but when you’re from Jo’burg you brush your teeth with fire and brimstone, so riding around in a chariot made of the stuff is just a bonus).

I digress – again. I seem to have a knack for doing that – going off on a tangent when I’m right in the middle of something else. I’ve always done it. My mother says it’s from when…d*mmit! Let’s get back.

Growing up, we all learn a rime about the traffic light, and the lesson is universal: Green light says GO.
Amber light says BE AWARE.
Red light says STOP, STOP, STOP or you will be a tjop, chop-chop!

In Jo’burg they teach the same rime, but with a slightly different slant. It goes something like:
Green light says GO.
Amber says GO LIKE CRAZY.

I saw it not once, not twice, but several times in the space of every ten minutes. Like riding a wave, the lights would turn red and stupid ol’ me would step on the breaks, only to be swept up – time and time again – by a surge of vehicles coming through en mass picking me up, dragging me through the cross traffic and safely dropping me on the other side of the intersection on a road I had no intention of being on, going in a direction that totally confused Carmen (“recalculating – recalculating – where are you going stupid human?”). This was inconsequential. What mattered was that I crossed the abyss safely (heaven only knows how) and was dropped in the middle of a new crowd who immediately (super-senses) knew I was not from here and enthusiastically started greeting me with the whole hoot-salute-thank you-thing.

I realised they had other super-powers: they were all crash-, crush-, and crumple-proof! With so many millions of them on the roads, flying the way they do, they have to have special powers to stave them from horrible consequence on a daily basis!

Therefore, whenever the news tells of an accident on the R25, you can be sure it was a motorist from Nigel who hit a pedestrian from Umlazi. It couldn’t be a Boytjie from Jo’burg – it’s astro-physically impossible.

Super-heroes – one and all!

No tights, no masks – superheroes acting like normal people in a fantastic city called Jozi – a place full of things you cannot imagine (you’ll have nightmares if you try).

How then can a place like this have a name that sounds like a tea cosy, or your uncle’s cousin twice removed?

Any suggestions?

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