It is time for Johannesburg to stop kidding itself. The city is dead and it has been for some time now.
If anyone thinks that yours truly is being reactionary, they should tell me when last they went to eat out in the city centre after 7pm. If anybody still eats out there. Yes? And that’s not even half of my complaint.
The thing is, the city of gold hasn’t lived up to the hype. In the months leading up to last year’s great job of co-hosting the Fifa World Cup, the authorities grew all chirpy in their self-promotional rants. We were told in no uncertain terms: “Johannesburg is a world-class African host city.”
What does that mean? Inner-city businesses start closing down at 5pm, so that by 6:30pm people have to start finding alternative ways to get home. By 9pm the last few minibus taxis are ferrying citizens out of the city to their homes in the townships or elsewhere.
For reasons of decency I will not go into the abominable stench that pervades the air of the city’s streets; the rot of uncollected waste and leaking sewerage drains that compete with the pedestrians for pavement space.
As far as culture goes, you will be forgiven for calling Joburg dwellers a bunch of Philistines. As I write this, there is not a single art gallery open. In fact, one of the city’s most celebrated art spaces, Afronova, will resume business only on February 11. The Goodman Gallery will start welcoming visitors only on January 11.
These are just two of the cultural watering holes that have been lifeless through the festive season. Even the city’s theatre engine, The Market Theatre, has been a no-go area since the holiday season began.
So if you found yourself in Johannesburg in December, you were not expected to be alive.
The last music treat, as far as I can remember, was a jazz concert at Wits University’s Linder Auditorium. It was saxophonist Zim Ngqawana’s annual offering of avant-garde music – but that was only on December 15, which meant that as the last note was being played, audiences were girding for a not-so-festive season, with no culture to speak of.
So all of us need to grow up and face up to a truth we have been avoiding: ours is not a world-class African city.