They are here.
The darker corners of the Johannesburg concrete jungle have produced a new generation of fruit. And it is bitter, bitter fruit indeed...
I love Johannesburg and its people. I grew up buying fat-cakes from the street-side vendors on my way to school and wondering how the concrete jungle actually works. I even love the rat-like pigeons that strut about lazily as if they pay taxes just like everyone else.
So when the first opportunity to move into the CBD presented itself i jumped. I moved in to a beautifully refurbished building on the corner of Loveday and Market. I thanked White Developer, the great god of gentrification, for this. I am still living in the CBD and enjoy boasting to people that Johannesburg is actually pretty safe if you know how to spot the opportunists and make your walk a little less victim like. I have not been mugged in my three years of living there.
But last night was different. I actually feel privileged to have been witness to the birth of this new generation of muggers and casual criminals. But I'm still afraid. These are the signs of what is coming. The dilapidation of Johannesburg is happening faster than the gentrification. Entire lives are lived in the shadow of rickety windowless buildings in downtown Jozi. The kids in this story were born and raised in those shadows. Here's the story:
As I walked a beautiful young lady to her home on the other side of Carlton Center at around ten on a warm spring evening we found ourselves walking towards a group of eight boys, not one over fifteen years old. The youngest looked about twelve. And it was this youngest one who watched us openly as we approached. His hand was in his pants caressing where one day pubes would grow. When we were within earshot he said "sicela i 2 rand". The tone and the deadpan eyes clearly communicated that there'd be trouble if we did not oblige.
I laughed and told them that they are not serious as we walked past them. The tallest of them, a gangly idiot eyed youth, repeated my words as if I had just insulted their collective mother. My lady friend insisted I drop it as she saw me turning. I listened to her, but the hyenas followed.
We stopped and faced them. They turned and skipped back far enough that so i couldn't catch them easily. She asked them what they thought they were doing. They seemed momentarily cowed by her authoritative tone and skipped back even further, but soon they recovered and made as if to come back at us. I felt my body prepare for a fight. They swore at us and pulled out what might or might not have been knives. It was too dark to see. Some made as if they were about to attack but none came close enough for me to deal with. I thought of hyenas on the heels of two lone old lions.
But these were clearly amateurs. I was planning on which one to knock out with a hard right to scatter the rest when the lady insisted we continue on our way. We walked away to the sound of the hyenas cackling obscenities. They swore at my mother. I cringed but kept going. They didn't follow.
The lady and I reached our destination without further drama, but she was shaken and fearful for my trip back. Honestly, so was I, but she is far too stunning for me to even consider showing fear in her presence. Indeed, I was ready to take on that bunch of hyenas to protect her just five minutes before. Fear is not for display purposes.
My trip back to my place was uneventful and the pace exceedingly brisk; everyone I saw was suddenly shadowy and dangerous looking and I finally considered moving out of town. I realised that my heart had been broken by this bit of silliness. Joburg was no longer my darling...
I imagine these kids go to school and stuff, then come home to prostitute mothers or jobless drunken angry fathers. I doubt they do their homework. They go out and stay out until it is safe to come home - father in a drunken stupor; mother done working for the night.
And what else is there to do for a hungry group of kids on the edge of acceptable society? I would also probably harass the happy looking couple that seems so unaware of how hard life is just a hundred meters down the road from them.
It's crazy. I should probably do something about it. Open up a CBD community center or something that keeps them busy and feeds them after school. But I probably won't. I'm just going to move out of the CBD with my pretty girlfriend. And blame white people.
Yes. White people are to blame for this.