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.

The Top 20 British Pathé Newsreel Clips About South Africa


Before there was an Internet, before there was YouTube, before there was the breaking-news tweet, there was the British Pathé newsreel film clip.

You would watch these at the movies, between the trailers and the cartoons and the main attraction, and they would tell you, in a minute or two, what was happening in the world that week. Politics, lifestyle, culture, sport, events big and small, curiosities and oddities from near and afar.

Almost always, they were set to a soundtrack of sweeping strings and brass, rousing or solemn as the news demanded, and over this would be heard the voice, always male, of the narrator, enunciating in clipped consonants and rounded vowels the latest from the world of Pathé.

Now, in a generous gift to humanity, Pathé have uploaded an astonishing array of 85,000 newsreel clips to YouTube, spanning the years from 1896 to 1976. That’s 3,500 hours of footage, or just over 145 days, if you watch it all in one sitting.

The collection is a joy to browse and behold, and it is an exceedingly fascinating and useful resource for cultural anthropologists, students of history, and anyone who is looking for a good excuse not to get down to work.

Be warned, it is a real time-vampire, so the best way to use it, perhaps, is to search for something specific, and take it from there. I searched for “South Africa”. Here are 20 of the most interesting clips I found. I hope you find them interesting too.

This is silent out-take footage of what was once the biggest event of the year on the highveld. The Rand Easter Show. It was held at Milner Park, which is now the West Campus of Wits. If you’re a Witsie, you may recognise some of the landmarks.

A Children’s Day sports festival, open to all races, albeit not at the same time. “Among the many Non-European events is the wheelbarrow race,” enthuses our narrator. “This is one race where the winner definitely wins hands-down.”

In 1960, a referendum was held to determine, democratically, whether South Africa should become a republic, or remain a colony of the Great British Empire. Well, not quite democratically – only whites were allowed to cast their vote for Yes or No. “Women polled in strength while the men were at work.” These days, of course, voting days are public holidays, so we all get a chance to stand in a queue, make our mark, and enjoy the rest of the day off.

A massive tornado swept through the mining-town of Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, in 1948. I grew up in this dorp, so it grates my ear to hear the narrator mispronounce it as “Rooden-port”. The only real legacy of this natural disaster, which left seven people dead and thousands homeless, is a street in Roodepoort named Tornado Cresent.

Christmas, 1936. The Wanderers, Johannesburg. In their dazzling whites, the Boks go out to bat against the Aussies for the Second test. The “hero of the match” is Dudley North, the “young South African bat”, with his smashing innings of 231. “But the match ends, as most good matches do, in a draw.”

Long before ANN7’s memorable mispronounciation, the motor-racing Grand Prix was a regular event in South Africa. This was the first such event to be held in the country, on the Marine Drive circuit in East London in 1934. The race was won by the wonderfully-named American, Whitney Straight, who was also a much-decorated Air Commodore. “He tore through the field in his Maserati, like a black bullet.”

As Stukas and Spitfires blitzed into battle over the green fields of England, a boatload of happy-faced young Britons dropped anchor at Table Bay. “Their first thought on landing, a cable to Mother. Arrived safely, love and kisses.”

I like the elegant rhythm of the envy-riddled voiceover: “Is it right that while the chilblain has its way over here, the children have their play over there?” The English, as we know, have a curious view of Spring. It is the cruellest month, complained TS Eliot. In South Africa, as this clip confirms, it is the mooiste, mooiste maand. Although I must say I’ve never seen this sort of Pagan welcoming of the season on our shores.

At the Wanderers, as war-clouds rumble over Europe, a very Catholic gathering on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Prayer Days in times of crisis are still a South African tradition, even in our nominally secular state. My favourite image here is the mass of nuns in procession. You don’t see that on the streets of Joburg every day.

That ancient rivalry at play and at war, this time at the SCG in Sydney. A day of mud, sweat, and possibly, tears, with the ground “sticking to the boys closer than a mother-in-law”. The Springboks, out to avenge a crushing defeat, won the test by nine points to five.

Father Trevor Huddleston stands tall as a man of grace and goodness in the story of South African politics and culture. This is a recollection of his works and  humanity on the eve of his recall from St Peter’s Church in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, back to the headquarters of the Anglican Church in England. “His slogan,” the narrator tells us, “is ‘black and white are both entitled to a full life’. Not a popular view with South Africa’s rulers.” This clip includes a quick glimpse of Father Huddleston walking with Alan Paton, author of Cry, the beloved Country.

“The girls of Durban, South Africa, in the land of perpetual sunshine, believe in beauty culture too.” A mass exercise on a school playing field. Nowadays, of course, they would just head for the nearest Virgin Active.

Sitting at a drawing-table in the shade of a garden in Cape Town, the Princess Elizabeth, who would go on to be crowned Queen within six years, delivers a message to the people of the Great British Commonwealth on the occasion of her 21st birthday. It is 1947, and the “terrible and glorious” years of the Second World War are still fresh in memory. In her wondrous accent, through the marvel of radio, she dedicates herself to a life of service, “whether my life be long or short”. She is still Queen today.

A rare colour travellogue, taking us from the untamed Umfolozi, on a donkey-safari led by a young Ian Player (he would go on to became a world-renowned conservationist) to the “Land of the Red-Blanket People”, or the Wild Coast of the Transkei, as we know it today. The narration here has a tinge of pith-helmeted paternalism – “here’s a happy-go-lucky village community” – that brings Monty Python sketches to mind. And we learn too, that even back then, the white rhino was in danger of dying out.

The Royals of the House of Windsor, all dressed in white, sit with umbrellas close to hand and watch as the “sons of Shaka” perform their traditional Zulu war-dance, in this dispatch from the Royal Visit of 1947. Not everyone was in favour of this expedition, and Die Transvaler, a newspaper edited by one HF Verwoerd, who would later become Prime Minister, would only let its readers know that there would be traffic congestion in the streets of Johannesburg on the day of the visit. Today, of course, Afrikaans newspapers and magazines devote hectares of space to the Royals, whether or not they are on a visit to South Africa.

A delirious celebration, in full colour, of the wonders of Durban, “the gayest holiday resort in Southern Africa”.

In 1962, in a symbolic shift from the customs and traditions of the Commonwealth, South Africa introduced a new system of coinage, personified by the bouncy rock ‘n roll jingle of “Decimal Dan, the Rand-Cent Man, gets his cents for pennies wherever he can”. This colour clip includes some fascinating footage of early 60s fashions and the busy interiors of South African banks and supermarkets. Boy, handbags were really cheap back then.

The title says “Race Problem, 1955”, but the concluding footage here seems to show the famous Women’s March of 1956, when thousands of women arrived at the Union Buildings to protest against Apartheid. The narrator tells us that HF Verwoerd, then Minister of Native Affairs, refused to meet with the deputation, because it was racially mixed. The cold, mad logic of Apartheid bureaucracy.

In April 1960, while observing a parade of cattle at the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, Prime Minister HF Verwoerd was shot twice in the head by a man armed with a .22 pistol. Verwoerd survived the assassination attempt, and the country was plunged into fear and tension. “Where it is calm, outwardly,” says the narrator, over footage of people crossing the road in Cape Town, “the news is all of race hatred.” This was just a year before the massacre at Sharpeville, and six years before Verwoerd was stabbed to death in Parliament by Tsafendas.

Johannesburg traffic was just as crazy and intense in the pre-war era. Maybe even more so, because there were trams and horse-carts to compete with the motor-cars. This clip is silent, alas, but if you listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the roars and screeches and hootings in your head. And just look at those outfits. People really went to town when they went to town. These days, no-one will blink twice if you wear a tee-shirt and shorts to Hyde Park Mall. As long as it’s a Giorgio Armani tee-shirt and shorts, of course.


The Last Comrades

In a small town in the heart of the Great Karoo, a small party gathers to honour an overlooked icon of South African politics

The President stepped onto the pavement in Graaff-Reinet, his bodyguards scanning the throng, their faces as impassive as Easter Island statues behind their wraparound sunglasses.

It was my first visit to the dorp, with its beautiful Gereformeerde Kerk and its crisp, dry Karoo air, and I was embarrassed to realise how little I knew about its culture and heritage, or even how to spell its name. But all of that was about to change.

A woman chanced upon the scene, blonde and smiling, pushing her toddler in a pram. The infant was wielding a big, knobbly tree-branch, sideways, like an oar, and there was an awkward jam, a you-go-no-you-go moment, as the mother and child tried to squeeze by.

Then Lepatla Mphahlele, the President of the Pan-Africanist Congress, tall and imposing in his cream-coloured Nehru shirt, stood back with a nod, and the procession moved on.


It was Robert Sobukwe Day in Graaff-Reinet, honouring the founder of the PAC, who was born and was buried here. Sobukwe. He too was a lawyer, a leader, an exile on the Island. But today there is not even a street in his hometown that bears his name.

We had driven up from Cape Town through the Great Karoo, the thirstland that was once a sea, where change comes as suddenly as a flash-flood, or as slowly, as imperceptibly, as the earth shifting over aeons. The memorial was going to be held at the soccer stadium.

When we got there, the sun was glinting on rows and rows of cars, and I thought, well, this is a pretty good turnout. But the man at the gate looked bemused. “No,” he said, this is a school sports day. You must want the graveyard.”

Back in town, we were shown to a modest homestead, where a man appeared behind the bars of a security gate. He had a deep, resonant voice, a pulpit voice, and a handshake as solid as oak.

Try the town hall, he said, and he wished us well, as people do on the Platteland. I later learned that his name was Dinilesizwe, and he was the son of Robert Sobukwe.

There were a few people milling around in front of the hall, in their tee-shirts that said The Land Is Ours and PAC Our Only Hope and Serve, Suffer, Sacrifice.

A man wearing a Kaizer Chiefs shirt and a pork-pie hat showed us how to do the PAC salute: a raised, open palm, with the pinky scissored to the side.

Then we drifted off to the graveyard, where we joined a small party gathered around the tomb, with its outline of Africa and its epitaph, Tata Prof.

“Comrades,” said the regional organiser, in his billowing black-and-green kaftan shirt, “is there anybody who can pray for us?” Silence. “A bishop, a priest, a volunteer?” Finally, a man stepped forward.


He delivered an entreaty to the heavens, a reminder that it does not take a mob to start a revolution – in Cuba, he said, there were only 95 – and then he called for the return of the prodigals.

“Those who have run away, they must come back. But they shall have to follow the proper procedures and processes.” He bowed his head, beneath the umbrella that was being held by a bodyguard. “In the name of Jesus Christ, we thank you oh Lord, amen.”

At the town hall, which was about a quarter full, a young man stood on the stage and read from a document that was rich with hope and revelation, like a spreadsheet of projected Retirement Annuity values.

It began with 10,000 now, and rocketed to 320,000 by 2019: the number of PAC members, if everyone went out and persuaded just one person a year. The President stood up.

He spoke about Robert Sobukwe, who never owned a car, and about the ideal of leadership through service. Then he spoke about trees.

“In the forest, there are many trees,” he said. “There are tall trees, and short trees. But they are all trees. They all belong to the tree family. Just like there is only one race. The human race.”

The song rose slowly, softly at first, to the shuffling of feet that became a stamping, and the voices echoed like thunder in the open space.

“Yihla moya kaSobukwe,” they sang, their palms swaying. Come down, spirit of Sobukwe, come down.

*Letlapa Mphahlele is no longer the serving President of the PAC. The party has been torn again by strife, and there is a possibility that it may merge in some way with the EFF.


Home Invasion: A Tale of Two Takeaways

We had just come back from the Saturday evening takeaway run – Chicken Nuggets and fries from McDonalds, lunchbox combo, no prawns, from Sakura Sushi – and I had pressed the button on the blue remote to Open Sesame the gate. I drove in. The garage door opened. I parked and cut the engine.

I could hear that familiar, comforting sound of the suburbs: the gate rattling shut on its rails, the filaments of the electric fence quivering. Then, another sound. Footfalls on facebrick. Loud, heavy.

I half-turned to see a solid force charging towards me, backlit by the glow of the security lamps, and the man was standing by my side, in the combat position, feet planted like an oak tree, both hands outstretched on the grip of a gun. A 9mm, pointed at my head.

For pretty much all of my life, I have been a Johannesburger. Often, waiting for the robots to change, I have fantasised about what I would do in these scenarios. I would turn in the driver’s seat, slowly, as advised. I would put my hands in the air. I would make no sudden, rash movements.

Then – blam – I would elbow the car door against my attacker, knocking him off balance, and I would catch his flying gun and stand over him, because I would not let him rob me of my property. Then the lights always blink to green and I blend in with the traffic.

“Get out, get out, get out,” the man was saying. Stockily built, round face, smart casual. “Phones. Where are your phones? Lie down. Get up. Don’t look at me.”

From the corner of my eye, I saw a white SUV pulling up outside my house, and waiting. Then the other guy, leaner, skinny blue denims, black sneakers, holding a sawn-off shotgun and aiming it at my midsection.

The weapon looked almost too clean to me, its barrels lovingly polished, and I wondered for a moment if it was real, or something picked up off the shelf at China City. I’m going to fast-forward through the next part. The men pushed us down the corridor and into the bedroom, and they made us lie down and they robbed us.

Over and over, between the threats and the swearing and the feet pushed down on heads: “We’re not going to hurt you.” So here we are, a few days later, unhurt. Survivors.

The men who stormed our house that night robbed us of things, and private space, and minutes that seemed like hours, and a quiet Saturday night at home, dining on sushi and McDonalds. They robbed us of peace of mind and comfort and security.

But I will not let them rob me of the way I feel about this place. I will not let this be my metaphor.

At some point in the evening, I found myself stumbling down a side-street in the township of Alex, barefoot, my neighbour’s iPhone in my hand, tracking a little green dot to the possible location of my stolen goods. Then the signal disappeared, like a flame strangled on a wick.

A policeman with an assault rifle, standing in a doorway, called me over and asked if I recognised anyone. I strolled into someone’s home, into their private space. But all I saw was people sitting in their lounge, calmly, watching television and having supper.

I felt more than ever the duality of our society, the two worlds we live in, and the things in those worlds that we have in common. For one thing, our destiny.

I have learned, over the last few days, that we are a circle, a community, a constellation of individuals who in some way depend on and care about each other. A social network.

The other day, a guy named Wayne, who I have never even met, sent his mother around – his mother – to drop off a backpack containing a MacBook Pro for me to use.

“What can you do?” she said, throwing her hands in the air. “What can you do?” And then: “You’re alive. Baruch HaShem.” Thank the Lord.

Later in the day, Louise, from the PTA, came around with butternut soup and a chicken supper. Patty popped by on her way to yoga, with Lebanese bread and a big tub of hummus. Her car stood idling in exactly the same spot where the getaway driver had idled his SUV a couple of nights before.

The police, uniformed and plainclothes, have been uniformly professional and courteous and determined, fighting the good fight with their heavy caseloads and their sheafs of paperwork.

The volunteer counsellor, Michelle, in her reflective yellow vest, came over late at night to comfort my daughters, and then came back the next day to find out if they felt okay to go and see Justin Bieber.

On Twitter, I have been overwhelmed with wishes for our safety and security, and offers of iPhones and iPads and iMacs for me to loan, just because I tweeted on the night that all my Apple goods were gone. I have heard stories. War stories.

Stories of other home invasions, and break-ins, and muggings, and violations. They all say the same thing: “You are not alone.”

A journalist asked me, “What thoughts went through your mind, when you saw the guy pointing the gun at your head?” I laughed at the question, because I have asked it so often as a journalist myself. Finally, I know the answer. Nothing goes through your mind.

Between fight and flight there lies another response: numb, unblinking incomprehension. Oddly, I didn’t feel fear when I saw the gun, which is not to say I felt fearless. I just felt, for a frozen moment…nothing.

I have felt and thought a lot of things since then, and one thing that keeps going through my mind is something my friend Denis Beckett once wrote, in one of those pieces we need every now and again to remind us of our reasons for being here.

“For every guy who holds up a gun,” wrote Denis, “there are 99 who hold out a hand of friendship.” So this now is my mantra. This is my takeaway. I think it has to be. Otherwise, the man with the gun has won.

*This piece appeared in the Review section of the Sunday Times on May 19, 2013

What’s in a White Name? MyBroadband and the Quest for an UnGoogleable South Africanism


Two of my favourite South African websites, for vastly different reasons, are 2oceansvibe and MyBroadband.

2oceans I enjoy for its gossipy buzz and shamelessly Capetonian outlook on life, and MyBroadband for its topical, vigorously consumerist coverage and discussion of issues in the telecommunication, gaming, and general tech arenas.

Very rarely do these two online universes intersect or collide, and yesterday was just such a day.

That was when 2oceans carried a story headlined “Local Tech News Site, MyBroadband, Asks Users To “Find The White Name” When Registering”, which was all about a security verification measure that contained the following random question:

Please select the white name and surname from this list (example answer: Gerhard Jansen), and provide the answer in the space below: Buhle, Jan, Odwa, Phumza, Siphelele, Bonani, Zuma, Pule, Mandela, Vermeulen, Ncguka

Get the answer right, and you will be admitted to the MyBroadband forums, where you will be able to post and comment and argue and pontificate in the Great New South African tradition.

Can you pass the test?

I admit I stumbled a little at “Buhle”, but I didn’t get much further than that, because my overwhelming reaction to the question, and I actually said these words out loud to myself, was “What the?”

Not only because of the bizarre nature of the quiz – I thought it might even be a trick question, a litmus test of our natural inclination to leap to conclusions – but because you don’t need to have the most finely-tuned antennae to recognise the political and sociological subtext in a challenge that requires you to select a “white name” in order to get past security.

Let us apply the real-life test here. In South Africa today, would you stand at the door of a club and ask people to “select a white name” from a list in order to gain admission? Sooner or later, somebody would call you out and kick up a fuss.

So I tweeted a link to the story, adding “what the?” by way of commentary, and I more or less got back to work.

Then, a little while later, I had a call from Rudolph Muller, the founder and Editor of MyBroadband.

He wanted to give me some context to the subtext, and explain the reasoning behind the random security question, which by now was causing a bit of a hekkie – as in a small gate, or minor scandal – on Twitter.

As I listened to Rudolph, I began to regret posting that tweet, not because I regretted posting it, but because most tweets have the half-life of goldfish-RAM, and are not really meant to be fished out of the fast-moving stream and exposed to the oxygen of a real-life conversation. Still, a word I had never before heard caught my ear, and I was intrigued. “UnGoogleability”.

It turns out that MyBroadband, in common with most community-based websites, has a big problem with spam. So big, said Rudolph, that if left unchecked, more than 90 percent of registrations on the site would be from spammers, the vast majority of them from countries other than South Africa.

MyBroadband claims 1.3-million unique readers a month, so that’s a lot of spammers. To keep them at bay, the site uses a variety of “anti-spam” measures, including IP blocking and verification by e-mail.

But none have proved as effective, says Rudolph, as the posing of a “challenge question”, the answer to which requires at least some working knowledge of South African culture, current affairs, and onomatology. (The study of proper names. I Googled.)

An example of such a question:

Whose hairstyle did not change in 50 years (Just give the name and surname)? John Bishop, Dina Pule, John Smit, Riaan Cruywagen, Charlize Theron, Ruda Landman, Oscar Pistorius, Ryk Neethling

The problem with this question, however, is that the answer is easily Googleable, so it wouldn’t take a human spammer (as opposed to an autobot) too long to crack the code. Hence, MyBroadband has tried tougher questions, such as:

  • Name the blue politician (with Helen Zille as the answer)
  • Name the smallest city (with a few large SA cities and Bloemfontein as the answer)
  • Which is the yellow mobile operator (with MTN as the answer)

But even these have proved to be flimsy, like those cupboards and chairs people place against doors in zombie movies to keep the shuffling hordes out. What has worked, better than anything else, says Rudolph, has been the “Select a Name” question, and yes, they’ve tried “Select the Black Name” as well as “Select the White Name”.

Now clearly, as Rudolph learned yesterday, these are sensitive, potentially troublesome questions to ask on a public forum, and all it takes to turn a technical anti-spam measure into a national issue is one user sending a link or a screengrab to a site like 2oceansvibe, and another user or two tweeting about it.

Why not ask “Select the Afrikaans Name”, instead of “Select the White Name”, you may wonder? Surely that would be slightly less contentious. Well, yes, but the answer would also easily be Googleable, according to the exhaustive tests MyBroadband has conducted.

So this is the point where Rudolph throws up his hands, turns to the crowd, and asks, do you have any better ideas? He’s looking for the Great unGoogleable Question, the question true South Africans will be answer without too much difficulty, and spammers from overseas will not.

Go here to find out more, if you’re interested, and to take part in the quest. You’re going to have to register, of course, but don’t worry, because today’s Challenge Question is:

Unscramble the following letters to get the name of a place where you can buy chicken: adNnos

Bet you can’t Google that.

The True Colours of South Africa

I have a dream. I have a dream that one day all the colours of this great nation will co-exist in harmony on the same colour chart.

I have a dream that Amper Wit will stand alongside Buster Brown; that Piet Pompies will dwell in peace with Pap en Wors; that Babalas Green and Lammie Blou will see eye-to-eye despite their differences in hue.

I have a dream that all the colours of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet – will come to seem dull when we stop to look at the true range of shades and tints and blends that make us what we are.

A nation of colours. A colourful nation. A nation that dips its brushes into the palette and paints the canvas with vigour and passion, until someone else comes along and throws some other colours on top of that and we have to start all over again.

I have a dream that one day…sorry, what? Oh, I’ll take five litres of Fur on the Dash, please, and a small tin of Skerp Skiet Piet. And can I keep this colour chart? Great, thanks. I think I’m going to get it framed.

Bugger Julius Malema & the Range Rover He Rode In On. We’re Still the Rainbow Nation.


Sent from my iPhone

Okay, I know. It’s just a trick of the light. It’s just an illusion, a meteorological phenomenon, caused by the sun shining on beads of moisture in the atmosphere.

There isn’t really an arc of many colours up there. There isn’t really a pot of gold at the end of it, and even if you could get to the end of it, the whole thing would have vanished into the ether by the time you got there.

But still, a rainbow means something, and it means something special over here. It reminds us not to get too distracted by the noises and the voices and the pressing issues of the day.

It reminds us to look at the big sky, at the bigger picture, at the light that still shines after the storm has broken.

This was Joburg today, at about 5.15pm. I would have got out and stepped back and shot a panorama of the whole spectacular double rainbow with my iPhone, but the guy behind me was hooting, and the guy at the robot was trying to sell me a newspaper with a front page full of Julius Malema. For once, I didn’t even notice.


“Bloody Agent!”

“Revolutionary House” is in the house. The slickest, sickest dancefloor mix yet to emerge from last week’s ANC Youth League Press briefing. The one that ended briefly for Jonah Fisher of the BBC.

This music reminds me of the “found-sound” mixes Warrick Sony used to make with his one-man electronic band, the Kalahari Surfers, in the 80s, using bits and pieces of rhythm and shouted statements from Government Ministers.

I don’t know who “Revolutionary House” is by, but I’ll add a credit as soon as I find out. Enjoy.

*Update: the track was mixed by a Johannesburg music producer named David Law. Click here for a Q&A interview. Thank you!

Why the Media must keep a watch on Julius Malema, even though he already wears a big Breitlinger Navitimer.


Journalists are accused of many things, from mis-hearing mumbled comments in an interview, to mis-estimating the size of a crowd in a stadium, to accepting bundles of cash and sleeping with politicians for a story.

(The former I can sort-of understand; the latter…are politicians really that desperate?)

But perhaps the most common accusation, or at least the one that confuses us the most, is this: “You’re just trying to sell newspapers.”

We get this whenever we front-page a sensational event, or shine a light on an unsavoury aspect of society, or run a picture of a semi-naked celebrity, or devote acres and acres of column-inches to loud-mouthed politicians with fine taste in wine, wristwatches, and ladies in spangled bikinis.

The truth is, most journalists have only the most basic understanding of the economics of newspaper publishing, and I have yet to hear a journalist return from an assignment and say, “I’m working on such a great story! We’re going to sell lots and lots of newspapers!”

We do appreciate that at some level there is a correlation between what we write and how many copies appear in the “ABCs”, but we don’t think about it too much, firstly because we’re not great at maths, and secondly because it is hard to see the correlation between how many copies are sold and how little we get paid.

We tend to act on more primal instincts. We are guided by our “nose” for news, our “gut-feel” for a story, and the “legwork” it takes to turn that first whiff of something happening into something you might want to read.

But more than the instinct to hunt down the story, we are driven by the gnawing fear that some other journalist will get to it first. This is why it is futile to ask any journalist not to hunt down and report a story that is in the public interest and in the public eye.

There may be rare occasions when we will grit our teeth and abide by such a request, for instance when the police are working on a very sensitive case, and publishing the lurid details may…you know. That, and when someone gives us a big bundle of cash.

But otherwise, asking a journalist not to report a story or an issue, would be like asking a journalist not to think of an elephant. Or in this case, not to think of Julius Malema.

It was the satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys who first made the call, some months back, for the media to actively ignore Malema, to starve him of the oxygen of publicity, to deny him a platform for his grandstanding. This was either a major admission of defeat by Uys, or an act of satire on its own.

But now the call has gone out once again. Let’s ignore Malema. Let’s starve him. Let’s deny him.

Well, I’ve been trying. I’ve been trying hard not to think about Julius Malema.

I’ve been trying not to read about him in the papers, or watch him on TV, or listen to him on the radio, or click on certain links, or scan certain tweets when his name leaps out from the page. But it’s not working, and it’s not going to work.

So let me rather, as a card-carrying member of “the media”, attempt to answer certain questions that are raised whenever people try their best to ignore Julius Malema.

1) Did the media “create” Julius Malema? Of course not. He is a product of politics and circumstance and the dynamics of his own peculiar personality, in a country that has given rise to numerous other colourful and controversial political figures.

2) Has the media furthered his cause and enhanced his credibility, by giving him valuable space and airtime for his views? Hardly. He is probably the most savagely criticised, viciously lampooned, and sternly-editorialised-about political leader in recent South African memory.

3) Do newspapers sell more copies when they put Julius Malema all over the front page? Yes, but only to Julius Malema.

4) Will he quietly fade away if the media as a whole were to ignore him for a day, a week, a year? This is a rhetorical question, but the answer, anyway, is: we would be the ignorant ones.

We may not like what Julius Malema has to say.

We may not like Julius Malema.

But I, for one, like living in a society where I can read all about him and what he thinks and says and does, and then decide myself whether he’s worth ignoring or not.

*Footnote: That’s the pop singer Chomee in the picture above, eyeing Julius Malema’s magnificent Breitling Navitimer wristwatch at a recent glittering social occasion.