If you lived in the flatlands of Hillbrow you were not from Joburg, back then Hillbrow was safer, you could walk the streets as drunk as a skunk in the early hours of the morning without encountering any trouble. The disco scene of the late 80’s, and 90’s is legend, nightclubs were open from Monday to Saturday giving way to Jazz clubs on Sundays that were packed to the rafters on each of those days, the atmosphere was electric with Happy Hour every night, entrance was with a comp (complimentary ticket) which you got from the club the previous night.
On warm summer evenings you could stroll up and down Pretoria street under bright neon-lit buildings, thumb your way through LP’s or Books at Look & Listen and C.N.A., the shops closed late, about 10 pm, everything was within walking distance, cart your groceries into the lift and up to your exact floor or gather with the usual crowd and play video games at the shop across the road before freshening up for the rest of the night proper -
If you lived at a college or varsity residence you found the structure and order required to focus…most of us out-of-towners’ did not…nor did we know anyone living in houses in the townships and suburbs, we were at the mercy of the landlords via their letting agents, rent went up constantly but building maintenance was a dream, those were the best of times, those were the worst of times, there were no safety nets to catch us if and when we fell.
Had we spent our time reading and joining book clubs, writing, taking in the late golden rays of the sun against the cityscape on slow and pleasant afternoons, enriching ourselves with all sorts of knowledge etc, we might have said it was quite the Bohemian lifestyle, sidewalk café’s and long lazy lunches ended with cups after cups of coffee…..but you know, small town boys, bright lights, big city…the place was buzzing, we went with the buzz..
Related: I shot the breeze with an old friend recently who waxed lyrical about those old days, he called them “lucka days” (good days) our “learning curve” - young people just out of school new in the world boozing hard every night, I don’t know, new experiences are always exhilarating, I look back now and see that there was pain, there were lots of challenges for our young shoulders to carry, there was lots of wasted time - my friend disagrees vehemently with my take on things -
No doubt about it, the best words I can use to describe me and my crew back then is: We were lost and trying to find our way, our place in the world without the help of adults, on top of that we still had to find ourselves - it was challenging, it was scary and lonely at times, I wouldn’t advise any youngster to hop on the bus and try to make a new life in a strange city, there’s easier ways to come by the same lessons.
For those who had kids, the hustle and bustle of Joburg life got too much at times, there was no gran or grand-dad to leave those kids with if they worked on Saturdays, this was not your Township that you could hop over the fence and loan a few rands to tide you over until payday, if you accidentally stumbled into the White clubs like ‘Bella Naploi’ and ‘Idols’ at 4 in the a.m. and got beaten to a pulp you quietly licked your wounds, put it all behind you and moved on…
Apartheid was on it’s knees, it was against the ropes, it was losing and the White boys were as angry as hell (someone told me recently that they’re the Only species that kills just for fun, think of endangered species hunting), they randomly stopped and searched us in the streets, there was change in the air, our country tilted from side to side and then straightened out…we eventually hopped onto those buses legally as free people, sadly some clubs are Still off limits….
…. I’m happy to say that most of us made it out there in one piece, leaving a burning bridge behind us…..today, more out-of-towners are writing their stories in Hillbrow, it may yet see the return of its glory days as a result of the inner city rejuvenation projects….this time Both White and Black are at the forefront of the positive changes we see in our City…I’ve been here for so many years that I finally feel at home.