My 500th Blog Post: 5 Things I Love and Hate about Joburg

1) What I love about Joburg: The people

This is a cliché and it flies in the face of Condé Nast‘s ludicrous pronouncement (ludicrous, I tell you!) that Johannesburg is the world’s unfriendliest city. But as a whole, people in Joburg are nicer, funnier, more creative, more genuine, and more interesting than people in any other place. Raymond

Raymond, a street vendor in Newtown.

1) What I hate about Joburg: The traffic

Traffic in Joburg sucks. And it’s dangerous. In fact Joburg’s traffic is far more life-threatening than its crime.

Fourways - William Nicol traffic

Overlooking the traffic on William Nicol Drive in Fourways. If you’ve been there, then you know.

2) What I love about Joburg: The skyline

I’ve written about the skyline many times. (See here and here and here.) The Joburg skyline is spectacular. It’s Joburg’s brand, and I love it.

tower shot

A view of the Joburg skyline from a rooftop on Rissik Street.

2) What I hate about Joburg: The poverty

Obviously poverty exists all over the world. But in Joburg it’s not unusual to encounter a barefoot street child in rags, kneeling in the center of a busy intersection at 11 o’clock at night. Joburg’s poverty is terrible and it’s not okay.

Alex Shacks by Jukskei

An informal settlement in Alexandra Township, just a few minutes away from Sandton’s “richest square mile in Africa”.

3) What I love about Joburg: The possibilities

Anything goes in Joburg. There are means of getting around obstacles. There are ways of doing things that can’t be done elsewhere. I’m not talking about bribery, either. I’m talking about flexibility and persistence. Joburgers don’t give up. They make a plan.

Jozi bench

I’m living proof of the statement on this bench.

3) What I hate about Joburg: The bureaucracy

Anything is possible in Joburg. Unless you are sitting in the ghastly waiting area at the Langlaagte Vehicle Licensing Office or the Department of Home Affairs, or waiting in line at the post office, the bank, or the Vodacom customer service centre. In such places it often feels as if nothing is possible. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, read my three-part series on registering a car in South Africa.

Traffic Register Number

See the expression on my face? That’s how I feel about South African bureaucracy.

4) What I love about Joburg: The weather

Joburg’s weather is the best-kept secret in Africa. The days are hot in summer, but there is virtually no humidity and early mornings are always cool. The afternoon heat is usually broken by a brief, intense thunderstorm followed by a stunning sunset. I live comfortably in a house with no fans or air conditioning.

Winter nights can be cold, and central heating is nonexistent, but winter only lasts for two months and it never rains or snows.

clouds and sunset

A typical summer evening in Joburg.

4) What I hate about Joburg: The crime

I hesitate to include this because the prevalence of crime in Joburg is grossly over exaggerated. But loathe as I am to admit it, crime — especially petty crime — is an issue here. I have never been victimized in my four-plus years in Joburg, but I’ve been lucky. I get tired of not being able to park my car on the street for fear it will be stolen, or hesitating to walk alone up the street with my laptop on my shoulder.

Hillbrow Tower and wire

Razor wire, high fences, and armed security guards are unfortunate realities in Joburg.

5) What I love about Joburg: Everything that I hate about Joburg

Joburg has many challenges, many annoyances, and many odd quirks. It’s not easy to live here. But it’s exciting, exhilarating, and fun. Above all it’s never boring, at least not for me. I’ll complain about the traffic, the crime, and the bureaucracy. But I’ll never let it break me and I’ll continue to love Joburg all the more.

Reflections

This photo says a lot about Joburg. On the surface it’s a dirty puddle in a run-down city street. But look more closely and there are many layers of beauty.

5) What I hate about Joburg: Paper towels. WTF.

I’ve been looking for a chance to blog about this for a while but it was hard to fit in. Now is the time.

Can someone please tell me why paper towels in South Africa are only available in packages of two? And why they are so flimsy and non-absorbent, and steadfastly refuse to tear along the perforated line? And why the cardboard roll is usually too misshapen to fit into my paper-towel holder? These questions have been killing me for years.

On the bright side, the dearth of decent paper towels is good for the environment. I am often forced to use a sponge or dish towel when I would otherwise be wasting paper.

paper towels

There’s a great opportunity in South Africa for a smart paper towel manufacturer. Someone seize it, please.

Thus concludes my top-five list of Joburg loves and hates. I may come back to my top five series in the future though because I’m really enjoying it.

Before signing off, I must empahsize that there are many more things that I love about Joburg than there are things that I hate about Joburg. Otherwise I wouldn’t live here. Just for kicks, here are a few more things that I love:

Waking up every morning to exotic birdsong. Flowers blooming all year round. Hadedas. Smiling at people on the street. Driving a car with manual transmission. Highveld thunderstorms. Jacarandas. Inserting the word “hey” at the end of a sentence. Drinking masala tea in Fordsburg. The Hillbrow Boxing Club. Joburg fashion. People wearing white robes, praying in parks on Sundays. Ponte City. Eating avocado (it’s called “avo” here) on pizza. The Melville Cat. My amazing friends. Walking on the Melville Koppies. Referring to traffic lights as “robots”. Ray.

Last but not least, this blog. 2Summers couldn’t exist anywhere else but in Joburg. Thanks to all of you for reading my 500th post.

Panoramic sunset

Speaking of the blog, I’m preparing to make some changes and 2Summers might go down for a few days at some point in the next two weeks. I’ll be back as soon as possible though so stick with me.

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55 Comments

  • Reply Ros October 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    You can get paper towel in packs of 4 for sure. I just checked on Pick n Pay’s online store – two brands (including the one in your picture).

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Haha, good to know! I just wish all the grocery stores would follow suit 🙂

  • Reply Derek Smith October 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Congratulations Heather, I’ve always admired how positive you’ve been about South Africa and Jozi in particular.

    Way back when Riaan Malan in Resident Alien included an essay “Kind Words for a Mean Town” which originally appeared in the “Sunday Telegraph” in 1999.

    He wrote about expatriates returning to South Africa and specifically to Jozi – a lot of it still holds true today

    “Foreigners think we’re nuts, coming back to a doomed city on a dammed continent but there’s something you don’t understand: it’s boring where you are. You’ll probably live longer than us and acquire more possessions, but there’s no ferment in your societies, no excitement, no edge. Your newspapers are bland and your politics are inconsequential, so many storms in teacups. You want crisis? We’ve got real ones – Aids, 40 percent unemployment, the highest rape and murder rates on the planet and a government that want to put blacks in our national rugby team, just on principle. We’re talking stuff that’s really worth fighting about, with real fire in the belly. We’re talking about a country where life is an insane gamble that’ll end either in blinding light or darkest disaster, and there’s absolutely no way of knowing which.

    This month, as we have seen, things are looking up, but you can be pretty sure that despair lies ahead, because it always does. We yaw between terror and ecstasy. Every day is an adventure. The only constant is the weather; the African sun beats down on our backs as we potter around in the garden, digging up rich African soils all red with oxides and squirming with earth worms. Our tomatoes are fat and red. Our Swiss chard grows like trees. Towards evening, we walk the dogs up to the crest of the ridge to watch the sun go down. Flights of sacred Ibis cross the sky. Lions roar in the Zoo nearby. Police chase hijackers on freeways, sirens screaming. We’re in the wild heart of Jo’burg, and it’s a pretty good place to be”

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:14 am

      Thanks so much, Derek. I love Rian Malan’s writing and I’ve read that Telegraph article. Great stuff.

  • Reply Firefly - Jonker October 23, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    I have always been very critical of Jozi and looking at your list the list of things you don’t like (ok, not the paper towel one) is exactly the reason. I would never be able to live there and the traffic would drive me absolutely nuts. That plus the dry Highveld air literally dries me out when I’m up there. I would also really miss the ocean.

    All that said, I have to also say that Jozi has grown on me a little bit and I have been to visit some amazing places around there. Still lots to do and see on future trips. Two places I would really like to still visit is the Maboneng and Newtown areas.

    Congrats on 500 posts. May there be many more.

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:13 am

      Thanks Jonker. Just keep coming back. This city will keep growing on you. And definitely visit Maboneng next time. It’s fantastic!

  • Reply writersdream9 October 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    Your love for Johannesburg just oozes from this list because you take the good with the bad. I would love to visit there some day!

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Thanks so much. I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts from afar 🙂

  • Reply David October 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I feel the same way about the paper towels. I buy them by the 8 pack in the US. Sometimes Checkers has the 4 pack. My housemate who is Zulu and I have had this discussion. He always questions why I use the paper towels and how wasteful it is. He states that there is no need for the paper towels since we have the cloth towels. I try to tell him about the hygiene of using or reusing towels that other people use.

    I suppose a lot of it stems from a country where some resources are scarce and have to be spread amongst an extended family. Plus with so many people having grown up in the 4 room houses intimacy and close quarters are the norm. Cloth towels make more sense since they last a lot longer. I am also a paper plate fan, same conversation, why use the paper plates when you have the porcelain plates. Apparently the excuse it uses less water and less dishes to wash falls on deaf ears

    By the way people laugh at you when you ask for napkins as that is a diaper or feminine product. At a restaurant you want a serviette. It would be nice if on the plane to JoBurg they had a little card, these things in America are called this in South Africa.

  • Reply David October 23, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    BTW I have ended up spending more time in Pretoria because my coworker/housemate has a place to stay there and he acts as my tour guide. Pretoria was gorgeous this past weekend with the blooming jacaranda trees. The Union Buildings were pretty cool.

  • Reply ljd (@ljd) October 23, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I love your posts on Joburg. They make me so homesick. Can I bring you a few rolls of Bounty in December?

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Hahaha, yes I would kill for some Bounty! 🙂

  • Reply amelie88 October 23, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Have you ever wandered into the shantytowns like the one pictured? Not by yourself, but with a group of people? I’m assuming that would be a place you may not feel very safe or comfortable but it would be interesting to know more about this side of Joburg. My mom saw her first shantytowns/slums when she went on a business trip to the Philippines and it really shocked her since she had never traveled to a “third world country” (not really sure if that is the case for the Philippines but it was the first time she had witnessed firsthand that level of poverty).

    And I remember your posts about registering your car! I’ve dealt with bureaucracy before in Spain/France and it is very frustrating but your posts took it to a whole new level!

  • Reply Sheryl R October 23, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Well done Heather! A fitting blog about a fabulous journey for your landmark of 500! You brought Jozi to life with it’s quirks, tragedy, maladies, idiosyncrasies, mayhem, opportunities and joy. There are more than a few who agree with you and love to live in this insane town and when we get tired, we head to Cape Town for a good break and return to Jozi with a sense of excitement and hope that this too shall improve. Perhaps one day it will but for today, it is lovely to see how you see the great and awful that Johannesburg has to offer. For today, like you, I am proud to call it home!

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:09 am

      Haha, thanks Sheryl. I don’t think Joburg will ever be like Cape Town but I do think it will continue to become a better version of itself. Thanks for the comment and all the support.

  • Reply chuckv88 October 24, 2014 at 1:48 am

    It’s been good work, Heather.

  • Reply Justcallmegertie October 24, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Still love seeing Joburg through your eyes! And you’re right, our weather is our best kept secret!

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Thanks Gertie, I’m glad you agree.

  • Reply mzansigirl October 24, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Congrats Heather! What an apt 500th post. It’s been great following your Joburg journey and becoming your friend.

    Yours in Jozi love,

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Thanks Mzansi. Right back atcha.

  • Reply XsouthAfricanGal October 24, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Well I’ve lived in SA (Gauteng-JHB) for 22 years
    Crime is why I left
    X-SA-Gal

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 11:05 am

      Sorry to hear that. But I hope you’re enjoying life wherever you are.

      • Reply XsouthAfricanGal October 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm

        I think that Jo-burgers tend to suger coat the crime and safety issues in the city and SA in general.
        When women cant go out alone in the street its a problem.. When you have to call the security to check your house when you want to come home before you enter to see if there isnt anyone lurking behind the trees or bushes in your back yard or behind a wall.. not an ideal way to live .
        so you have huge house with a pool in the garden, a private teniss court , a garner and live in maid BUT you live behind a huge wall .. a fence .. sucurity and alarms…two attack dogs sorry big house in a golden cage .. ..
        Not ideal way of life.

        Most of my frends who live in JHB (lived) Left to the UK , Australia or the US.. some left for Israel (I’m Jewish).
        .

        • Reply 2summers October 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

          I don’t live in a golden cage. I live in a normal house without a pool or a tennis court and I’m very happy, living in South Africa by choice. To each his own I guess.

          • XsouthAfricanGal October 25, 2014 at 1:13 pm

            Not quite.. I do believe that life in SA is cheaper … Houseing , education , is less expensive then in the states ..BUT when you’re hessitant to go out into the streets ant night alone or to your own back garden ..
            When your friends familiy were mugged at gun point or knife point .. or murderd for a mini van or mobile phone then is when you say enough is enough ..
            I lived in JHB between the years 1975-1995 I kinda have a clue about life in SA..
            Ech day you dont get mugged, robbed ect is a day you count your blessings in SA(JHB).

            Yes the weather is wonderfull .. smiling faces everywhere But if you want to raise a family safely with out owning a Baretta … 2 gardDogs ,alarm and huge fences … SA today not a place to live in the long term

  • Reply andrew October 24, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Agree 100% I wish more locals could see their own city through the eyes of foreigners!!! I think they would be pleasantly surprised!

  • Reply Jonnie Marks October 24, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Again, I’m so grateful for your blog! Took friends on the graffiti tour (with Bias) and did the workshop, all because of you! I agree 100% about all your choices — what’s up with the aluminum foil as well? — and am looking forward to experiencing all of Jozi with you as my guide. Thank you!

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Hi Jonnie, thanks so much for your comment. Ray told me all about the tour – wish I’d been there! Thanks for reading my blog and yes – you’re right about the foil 🙂

  • Reply James Minchener October 24, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I feel the same way about the paper towels – but do you know what annoys me even more?? Its the plastic that everything is wrapped in nowadays, and I mean everything!! single use plastic – isn’t that sad? I don’t know if you have kids or not, but what kinds of lessons are we teaching them and what kind of future are we giving them?

    • Reply 2summers October 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      Yes, I totally agree. Fruit and veg shops are forever wrapping things in plastic here. So annoying.

  • Reply Sunshinebright October 24, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Congratulations on your 500th!! A great achievement, for sure.

    Sitting here in my office on Friday, in South Florida, I can appreciate the way you describe your life in Joburg. You sure sound happy. The negatives about the city is a given. Just about all cities in the world have their good and bad parts and proclivities. Keep it up.

    • Reply 2summers October 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Thanks, I really appreciate that.

  • Reply Eric Cohen October 26, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Congrats guys, you made some really good points here.

    It seems like everyone has a problem with the Joburg crime, i personally think it’s not so bad, there are many places with a lot more crime like Brazil for instance, there’s definitely room for improvement but the problem is not the crime but corruption, SA cups don’t earn enough so A. why should they risk their life and B. how do you expect them not to take bribes, don’t get me wrong, i’m against it but you can’t blame them.

    I love my Jozi!

  • Reply Eric Cohen October 26, 2014 at 6:19 am

    I meant Cops, sorry!

    • Reply 2summers October 26, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Eric, I appreciate the comment and I agree with you. I agree that corruption is a huge issue, in SA as well as on countless other places. I think another issue is the fact that such a huge percentage of the population here is employed in some way or another by the security industry, or by crime. There’s very little incentive to reduce crime when you make a living out of protecting people from it.

  • Reply Joe October 26, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I’ve found Joburg a rather unfriendly city. It’s not that Joburg people are bad, but the traffic, crime, and stress (Joburg is a busy place after all) don’t bring out the best in anyone. You could do worse, but I consider South Africans overall to be friendly but suspicious people.

    On the flipside though, I absolutely agree with what you say about Joburgers making a plan and sticking things out – that’s something I really love about the people here too, and it’s a point that rarely gets much attention!

    On the whole, great list and it’s really refeshing that you see the positives! As an expat myself I’ve just seen too many miserable expats who only see the negatives and won’t shut up about them. It gets kinda old 🙂

    • Reply 2summers October 26, 2014 at 10:28 am

      Hahaha, thanks for the comment Joe. Although I actually disagree about South Africans being suspicious, as that hasn’t been my experience. Guarded, perhaps, but not suspicious. But anyway everyone has different impressions and experiences. I have heard that the expat community can be quite negative about things – I haven’t spent much time in that sphere though. Anyway thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Reply Gail Wilson October 26, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Awesome 500th post, love reading your blogs. Going to sit down now and discover what I really love and dislike about this wonderful city I call home. Thanks Heather have never really given that much thought – should be an interesting exercise.

    • Reply 2summers October 26, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Gail. I’ll be curious to hear what makes your list. xxx

  • Reply camellda October 28, 2014 at 8:41 am

    Congratulations! I just read your about page and now this post for the first time and I am hooked. As a fellow expat (I am now living in Spain) I can completely understand the love-hate relationship with our cities. You couldn’t have said it better when you said you love the things you hate- I feel exactly the same way. I can’t wait to dig in to the other posts!

    camelldalynn.wordpress.com

    • Reply 2summers October 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Thanks so much, Cami. I’m glad you can relate. I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog — I appreciate the comment.

  • Reply Dragos October 28, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Hi Heather,
    It’s really pleasant reading your blog. I’ve found it while searching about expats experience in Joburg. Now I’m already one foot in Johannesburg starting with January ’15 and I have to admit that your posts changed the way I see how life may be there, even for 8 months in my case. In a better way. I think crime is first thing people fear most when thinking to come there, and it’s also my case, but it looks that this may be something you get everywhere in major cities in some areas. If I would ask you about expressing in one word your motivation for living there, what would be that?
    Dragos

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Thanks for the comment, Dragos, and I’m so glad my blog has helped you. I really don’t know how to to put my motivation for living in Joburg into one word, though. My motivation could fill an entire book, and probably will some day 🙂

  • Reply Brian unsted October 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Awesome blog!!!

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2014 at 8:48 am

      Thanks Brian, I hope you’re doing well.

  • Reply Alice Kühne October 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Love your photo of Joburg in the puddle, looks like a painting!

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks Alice. That was a lucky shot 🙂 I hope you’re doing well!

  • Reply Sine November 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Somehow I missed this earlier and so glad I now found it. I agree with everything you say. Even the paper towels. One of the items on my “imports” from the US, in addition to Mexican chili powder and Ziploc bags, was a 6-pack of VIVA paper towels. They are so much better. And now there are tons of other brands here that are the same. Every time I’m at the store I marvel at how great they are. But then I also feel guilty because as you say, paper towels are such a symbol of what’s wrong here in America, everything is thrown away instead of re-used – I know people who use paper plates on a regular basis because it’s more convenient, and ONLY use paper towels and nothing else. So, maybe there is indeed something to like about those horrible two-pack paper towels, as you say. I love all your other points about Joburg!

  • Reply Irene December 12, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I absolutely love this post! I was born in this amazing city but lived overseas for 13 years of my life when my parents moved us to Europe, Canada, and the US. I stumbled across your blog whilst looking for information on Long Street 🙂 I am so impressed and amazed at the way you portray this beautiful city. No matter how many years I leaved overseas or the fact that my family now mostly resides in Greece, throughout the many phonecalls telling me to move back there, my answer is always the same “there is just something about Jozi that gets deep down into your bones”. On William Nicol about a year and a half ago Standard Bank had a billboard ad just after Bryanston Shopping Centre and it read “they call it Africa, we call it home” and that just about sums it up for me! The beauty, the culture, the people – it’s all too amazing to ever give up for a life in a bricked up city full of noise and rude people! Thank you so much for this refreshing view of our wonderful city and country – I hope that we as South African’s are doing our part to make you feel welcome, at home and very comfortable! Please feel free to pop in and visit me at The Common Room (6th Street, Parkhurst) where I will offer you a lovely cup of coffee and some interesting characters too 🙂 Thanks again

    • Reply 2summers December 12, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Hi Irene, thank you so much for the comment. It’s great to know that there are so many others out there who feel the way I do about Joburg. I’ve heard of the Common Room and I’ll definitely come by to say hello and check it out.

  • Reply Pendown (@manjulika5) June 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I am in Jo’burg these days and it was fun to read your blog. I will look for my things to love and hate…

    • Reply 2summers June 28, 2016 at 9:54 pm

      Haha, I’m glad to hear it. There are so many things to choose from on both sides 😀

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