A middle-class vibe

2012-04-21 15:41

We enter Nicolene Husselmann’s home on the ground floor of the Umfolozi block in River View, Weltevreden Park, to find her 23-month-old son, Felix Junior, tearing around the lounge with his friends from next door, Ofentse (2) and Rorisang (6).

Given the closeness of the boys, one would expect their parents to enjoy a similar relationship, but Nicolene and her husband, Felix Senior, have had no more contact than greeting and light conversation outside their adjacent sliding glass doors with Daniel and Lucia Mokautu.

“We just basically greet and ask, ‘How was your day’ and all of that.

No one really visits one another. Next door, mainly we talk about kids. But here you don’t really sit down and have a cup of tea with your neighbour. It’s not how I grew up, but it’s just the way it is,” says Husselmann (27). Daniel Mokautu agrees.“It’s a middle-class vibe here. We talk and greet, and the children play together. But you don’t hold family functions here.”

The 28-year-old business analyst works at cellphone network giant MTN, 5km away. He comes from Temba, north of Pretoria, as does his wife, Lucia, a radiologist at a private hospital, and their nanny, Wilhemina Thusi.

“It’s a mind-your-own-business culture here. If you greet people, they look at you. If I could choose I would stay in Pretoria, which is a bit friendlier. A few guys who also work at MTN stay here and we don’t even talk – and they’re black!”

A short distance away, at another complex in the same suburb of Weltevreden Park, lives Philisiwe Sefatsa, SABC1’s isiZulu bulletin news anchor and producer, watched by more than 3 million viewers across the country. Her neighbours, though, have no idea who she is.

Sefatsa and her husband, JoziFM breakfast show host Lucky Sefatsa, who live there with their children, Dineo and Tebogo, appear to enjoy the anonymity. At home in Durban she is a superstar.

“Growing up in the township, we saw a big difference when we moved to the suburbs. In the township you just go to your neighbour and you sit there, have a chat and they will call you for functions and all that. In the township, you can never have a braai without inviting your neighbour. Here, the neighbour can just have a braai like nothing happened, without inviting you,” she said.

The Sefatsas have invited their neighbours over for braais, particularly a family with whom they got along well. But they have moved out, and now its back to just greeting others in the complex’s paved lanes before unlocking their doors and going inside.

“I’m not saying I don’t get along with others. But that’s the life in the suburbs,” she says.

Besides keeping to themselves, another characteristic town house dwellers share is fear.Security is cited by everybody as one of the main reasons – alongside affordability – they live there. For Philisiwe Sefatsa, who admits that she “doesn’t trust Jozi people”, security is a foremost concern.

“You know, when we got here, people were always warning us about the crime, crime, crime. And we thought that in a complex, no one would actually come in here and try to rob us. So one of the reasons we live here is the security.”

Around the corner from the Sefatsas, Lauren Johnson (33) says she enjoys complex living because her children can grow up like she did in Port Elizabeth.

“I feel safer. I like the fact that my kids can go out to play with children,” she says.Like many of their neighbours, the Johnsons came to Johannesburg for work. Gavin is an IT manager in a company in Sandton, and Lauren runs a nursery school and aftercare centre from her home.

Back at River View, Sanri van Wyk, who lives alone on the third floor above the Husselmanns and Mokautus, moved from the Free State town of Bethlehem because she always wanted to live in the big city.

The 29-year-old public relations practitioner describes her neighbours as a “fantastic mix of people, from dynamic career women to stay-at-home moms from somewhere in Africa with four children”. “There are people from all levels of the middle class. You get young working people like myself who are first-time homeowners, you get people who are here as a stepping stone and you get people who, for them, this is it. This is (the best) they will ever be able to afford,” she says.

“We all dream of the day when we will buy a house with wooden floors and bay windows that let in a lot of sun ... Will I really live in a house alone in Joburg? I won’t. And do I really want to live with roommates? I don’t. Complexes are a reality that young women face in this city.”

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