21 Ways to Survive & Be Happy in Johannesburg


Whether you live in South Africa’s most dynamic metropolis, or you’re just passing through, here’s how you can make the most of it

  1. Learn to appreciate the dawn chorus of the hadedah, for the touch of the bushveld it brings to suburbia. Who needs an alarm clock in Joburg? And while you’re up and about, learn to appreciate the mid-morning, afternoon, and evening chorus too.
  2. Look inside your shoes before you put them on in the morning. There’s very little wiggle-room with a Parktown Prawn in there.
  3. Be nice to rain spiders. They are humungous but harmless. Coax them into a Tupperware dish, stick the lid on, and release them in the garden, if you must; otherwise, just wave to them as you go about your business. And don’t scream. It scares them.
  4. Buy a feather-duster from the feather-duster man. You’ll be supporting feather-dusterpreneurship, and you’ll have a device on hand to coax a rain spider from the ceiling in an emergency.
  5. Amble around the Maboneng Precinct, the new heart of Hipster Joburg, with its cafés and galleries and boutiques. Then stroll a little further along Main Street, and take the lift to the Roof of Africa, 50 stories above the bustle of the inner city.
  6. Don’t be too alarmed by the sight in your rear-view of a driver gesticulating wildly and shaking his head. He’s probably just talking to someone on his hands-free. Unless of course you’re slowing up the fast lane, in which case he is talking to you.
  7. Take a pamphlet from the guy at the robot. It’ll only take a moment, and you can always hand it over to the guy collecting pamphlets to put in his rubbish-bag at the next robot.
  8. If you see the traffic ahead of you suddenly slowing down, slow down. It means there’s a traffic cop in the bushes. Nobody slows down for any other reason in Joburg.
  9. Leave home an hour earlier than you think you need to leave for any meeting that begins before 9am. If, by some miracle, the traffic is light, you’ll have time to settle back with a coffee and the paper.
  10. Always carry a healthy amount of loose change in your ashtray. Unless you’re a smoker, of course. In which case, give up smoking and put the money you save into your ashtray.
  11. Walk. Swiftly, briskly, casually, leisurely, alone or en masse. Pound the pavements, promenade through the parks. Admire the buildings and breathe in the trees. This city wasn’t just made for wheels.
  12. Look carefully in your rear-view mirror when reversing from a parking-spot. You wouldn’t want to bump into the guy advising you how to reverse from a parking-spot.
  13. Don’t worry if you suddenly notice a big mall that wasn’t there yesterday. They do put them up overnight.
  14. Migrate from the malls every now and again, and mooch around the weekend markets. Neighbourhoods in Braamfontein; Market on Main in the CBD; Michael Mount Organic in Bryanston, Fourways Farmers Market on William Nicol and Montecasino Boulevard. They’re easygoing, friendly, and vibrant, with great gifts and trinkets and fabulous food.
  15. Roundabouts are called roundabouts because you go around about them. Not on top or across or on the inside. Not many Joburgers know this simple rule, which can help you get around the traffic in a roundabout way.
  16. Always carry two cellphones on your person. Not in case one of them gets stolen, but rather so you can have an excuse to say “Sorry, I’ve got to take this call” while you’re taking a call.
  17. Practise good car-ma. Where possible, ease back and let other drivers into your lane. They’ll be forever grateful, and you’ll be calmer.
  18. Get to know your neighbours. Not just those across the road, but those across town and across the freeway. Explore different places, travel different roads. Your suburb is not your city.
  19. Accept that winter will arrive with a vengeance, and summer will appear in a blaze. Autumn and Spring are merely theories in Johannesburg, like the orange light that is said to be observed between green and red.
  20. Sometimes, the best thing about Johannesburg is the road that leads you out of Johannesburg. Head north down the William Nicol or west down Beyers Naude, and you’ll be in the wide-open country within minutes. Nature reserves, mountains, the Cradle of Humankind. Once, all of Johannesburg looked like this.
  21. Look to the sky. A diamond-blue, electrically-charged canvas of infinite possibility, crowning the heights of one of the greatest cities in the world. Joburg. Or as some of us are happy to call it, home.