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new Jewel City development in Joburg City

Things Are Happening in Joburg City

Other than a brief visit to Hillbrow, I hadn’t gone to downtown Joburg city since before the pandemic started. Also today is the ten-year anniversary of my arrival in Joburg and I wanted to do something special. So I decided to devote the whole day yesterday to Joburg city explorations, and the whole today to blogging about it. To my relief, other than all the face masks, downtown Joburg looks much the same now as it did five months ago. There is a lot less traffic, which makes driving through the inner city downright pleasurable. Parking is easier to find than before. My Day in Joburg City Stop 1: Jewel City My first stop was Jewel City, a new development emerging between Anderson and Commissioner Streets on the eastern side of downtown, built on the site of what used to be the city’s diamond district. The old Jewel City was a mysterious, foreboding place, surrounded by high walls. If you’ve ever been to Maboneng, you probably parked next to it without realizing. The new Jewel City will be a mixed-used development with apartments, retail stores, offices, and plenty of public space. Most of the Jewel City buildings aren’t finished yet, […]

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Heather crossing a bridge in Emmarentia Dam

Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam Are Open

When the pandemic first hit and South Africa locked down, the closure of Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (two parks that are essentially one — I will refer to the whole thing as “Emmarentia” going forward) was one of my greatest sources of sadness. Emmarentia is my favorite park to run and walk in, and while several other Joburg parks (Delta Park, the Melville Koppies, James and Ethel Gray) remained unofficially open during Level 4 and Level 3, Emmarentia was firmly closed. After an interminable wait, President Ramaphosa finally announced about three weeks ago that all South African parks would re-open. Most parks opened their gates that week, but for some reason Joburg City Parks delayed the opening of the city’s “nature reserves” — including Emmarentia, the Wilds, and Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden — until 1 August. (I have no idea why nature reserves are different from parks.) I got so excited when I drove past Emmarentia last Saturday and saw people walking inside. I decided to go first thing this morning and bring my camera. My First Visit to Emmarentia Dam in Four Months I panicked when I drove to my usual Emmarentia parking area on […]

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Heather wearing fake smile mask

Lockdown Revisited: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

My advice for the week: If you’re feeling down in lockdown, put on a (fake) happy face. I haven’t blogged about the lockdown for a couple of weeks, and I feel like I’ve built up all these lockdown thoughts and ideas but haven’t been able to share them. So here they are, in no particular order. 1) I can’t believe this pandemic is still a thing. The lockdown has been going on for so long that I no longer feel nostalgia for the pre-lockdown days. Instead I feel nostalgia for the days right after the lockdown began, when the whole idea felt exotic and justified, and we thought it was only going to last for 21 days, and I didn’t have any decisions to make about anything. Last weekend I found myself walking laps around my house — my old exercise routine during Level 5, when leaving home was prohibited — rather than going for a walk on the street. Walking in circles, which seemed ludicrous four months ago, now feels oddly comforting and safe. For the first 100 days of lockdown, I kept track of what day we were on. I now feel nostalgic for that too. Counting days […]

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Bird mural on the wall of Paterson Park pool

The Birds of Paterson Park

Last week I participated in a behind-the-scenes tour of historic Paterson Park, on the border of Norwood and Orange Grove, to check out the public art projects in progress there. The park is undergoing a huge renovation, expected to finish in the next few months. Paterson Park’s art installations are part of Art My Jozi, an initiative implemented by the Trinity Session and the Johannesburg Development Agency. Art My Jozi also spearheaded the S-bend mural project on Louis Botha Avenue, which I blogged about last year. I’ve always been intrigued by the Norwood/Orange Grove area — it’s the Joburg neighborhood I find most similar to Melville, where I live — and I’d been eyeing the Paterson Park redevelopment for months. It felt great to get out of the house and visit this city project that is still going full-steam ahead, while so many other fun things are indefinitely stalled. I explored the park with Laurice Taitz from Johannesburg in Your Pocket and Tariro Moyo, technical project manager and our guide from the Trinity Session. Like all the Art My Jozi projects, the Paterson Park art installations were conceived through community participation and consensus. The works revolve around the themes of […]

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Nunos jobs save lives

#JobsSaveLives: The Plight of Melville’s Restaurants

Today, the South African restaurant industry participated in a nationwide demonstration called “One Million Seats in the Streets”, to protest the government’s treatment of the hospitality sector during the COVID-19 lockdown. The hashtag for the movement is #JobsSaveLives. Although restaurants were permitted to re-open in June, their business is crippled by a ban on the sale of alcohol, a 9 p.m. curfew, and an ineffective unemployment insurance system. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South African restaurant workers, owners, and family members have lost most or all of their income. I must admit, I’ve been a super hermit for the past few weeks and had been avoiding 7th Street — the restaurant row in my own suburb of Melville — because I feel so sad about all the restaurants closing. A lot of restaurants are either indefinitely shut or officially gone for good. But today I forced myself to go to 7th Street to show my support. The strategy of the protest was for restaurants to move all their tables out into the street, to garner attention and create a visual display of how empty the restaurants are. But I was pleased to see a good percentage of the […]

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Heather in Jozi

How You Can Help Me Write My Book

I have to write a book this year. I have to. I’m absolutely certain it’s the right time. But my procrastination has reached epic new heights. I need your help to overcome it. I’m good at accomplishing things when I have clear, set goals with tangible deadlines. I started this year with plans to visit ten South African towns across all the country’s provinces. I was moving along right on schedule with that, until the wheels came off with the global pandemic. Then I committed to blog every day of the South African lockdown and stuck to that for 100 days (except Saturdays and Sundays after Day 50). Two weeks ago, after completing the 100 days of lockdown blogging, I decided my next goal would be to finally write the memoir I’ve been intending to write ever since I started this blog in 2010. And guess what? I’ve made almost zero progress, on the book or anything else, during those two weeks. Instead I have done a lot of fretting. So now it’s time to pull out the big guns and make myself accountable — to all of you. Blogging is the one thing I am consistently able to do […]

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Volunteers in hazmat suits at Melville food parcel distribution

Food Parcels and Hazmat Suits

This morning I visited the Melville food parcel program for the first time in two weeks, and things have changed significantly at the distribution. The entire operation has been moved outside the church, due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases, and the volunteers are now wearing bright red hazmat suits. It was both dystopian and funny watching everyone walk around in these suits, complemented by masks, face shields, and rubber gloves. Like, this is the actual world we are living in now? I kept waiting for Dustin Hoffman to walk around the corner with a camera crew. But yeah, this is indeed the world we’re living in. It’s not a movie set. And the suits are definitely not an overreaction. If someone comes down with COVID-19 it could put the whole program in jeopardy, and that simply cannot happen right now. The volunteers distributed 420 parcels today, bringing the total to 3895, and the need is clearly not lessening. I don’t know if it was the suits, or the fact that I hadn’t visited the program in a while, or what. But I kept having to blink back tears during the hour I was there. I feel heartbroken about […]

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Baby daffodils

I’m Back: An Un-numbered Lockdown Post

Hello. After blogging mostly every day for the first 100 days of South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, I took a full week off. This is weird. It feels like I’ve been gone for ages. In fact I haven’t been gone at all — I’ve been right here, in my house, the whole time — and very little has changed. Actually, a few things have changed: 1) I’m a year older, as I celebrated a birthday last Wednesday; 2) South Africa has tens of thousands more COVID cases and we are officially entering a viral surge; 3) Alcohol has been banned again and I feel like I’m living in the Soviet Union; 4) I no longer remember what day of lockdown we’re on. I’m glad I took a break. I definitely couldn’t have kept up with those numbered lockdown posts any longer. But I’m disappointed I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish during my blogging holiday. In hindsight, I suppose it was unrealistic to expect I would write a memoir, redesign my blog, and come up with an entirely new plan for my future over the course of one week, during the dead of winter, in a global pandemic. I […]

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Heather on Day 100 of lockdown

Day 100: My Top Five Lockdown Posts

It’s Day 100 of the South African lockdown. I’m still here, at home, on my couch. Many people in South Africa have been writing about Day 100 on social media, posting montages of photos, reflecting on what’s happened over the past three-plus months, etc. I don’t want to be redundant or overdo it. But this day does feel quite momentous for me, as it does for so many others. I truly don’t feel like the same person I was 100 days ago, in the same way the world doesn’t feel like the same place it was 100 days ago. This blog, which has defined my existence for the past ten years, is also not the same as it was 100 days ago. I used to blog once or twice a week — maybe three times if I was feeling really inspired. But I blogged for 53 days in a row when the lockdown started, and then continued to blog five out of every seven days until today. I’ve now published 89 total posts since I spontaneously decided to start this lockdown journal. Today I’m officially ending the journal, simply because I’m burned out and Day 100 seems like a good […]

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Traffic passing the Hillbrow Boxing Club

A Visit to Hillbrow (Lockdown Day 99)

I’ve been working out with George Khosi at the Hillbrow Boxing Club for many years. Up until the lockdown started I’d been going to Hillbrow about three times a week, every week, since 2012. George is not just a coach. He’s like an uncle to me. And although we’ve been checking in via text every week or two, I hadn’t seen him in person since March and that was starting to feel really weird. Also the gym — which is on the site of an abandoned petrol station — has been undergoing a major renovation since February. I was eager to see how things were going. Obviously I still can’t exercise at the gym, but I figured I could go for a masked, socially distanced visit. Yet I felt apprehensive, like the coronavirus somehow makes Hillbrow more dangerous than it was before. It’s weird how the pandemic makes me afraid of things I wasn’t previously afraid of. I promised George I would visit this week. Today was the last day of the week. So I finally went and I’m so glad I did. Visting Hillbrow Hillbrow, which has always had a serious problem with sanitation (in fact that’s a huge […]

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Girl collecting a food parcel in Melville

3000 Food Parcels (Lockdown Day 98)

It’s Day 98 of the South African lockdown, which I literally cannot believe. Earlier today I suddenly thought back to my Day 9 post, when I said it felt like Day 900 and questioned my decision to blog every day of lockdown because I suspected it might last longer than 21 days. Ha! Hahahaha! As usual there is a lot of bad news in South Africa today, but I won’t torture you with it. It’s Thursday, food parcel day, and the Melville food program has now surpassed 3000 parcels donated (400 of them today). This isn’t “good” news exactly — it’s definitely not good that this program is so sorely needed — but it’s quite an achievement nonetheless. There has been some debate about this program in Melville — around who is receiving the parcels and why, who is/isn’t worthy of receiving food from charitable programs, etc. If you’ve been pondering these questions yourself (or not), please watch this video, which includes short interviews with several of the parcel recipients. Those of you who read my food parcel post last week might recognize Josaya the poet in this video. I chatted with Josaya again this morning — he told me […]

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Lockdown Day 97

I’ve been thinking all day about what to name this post, or what kind of theme or subject to give it, or whatever. But today is Day 97 of the lockdown, which means it’s been 100 days since I started this Lockdown Journal. (I started the journal three days before the lockdown started.) I just counted up all my posts and I’ve blogged on 88 out of the past 100 days. (I took weekends off after Day 50.) It’s officially too much now so today’s post just has a number, not a name. South Africa had nearly 7000 new COVID cases yesterday, nearly 3000 of which were in Gauteng province. Joburg is becoming the country’s new coronavirus epicentre. South Africa’s health system is crawling toward a breaking point — there aren’t enough oxygen tanks or ambulances. I don’t personally know anyone who has been sick enough to be hospitalized, but my Facebook feed has progressively more posts about friends of friends who have died. There is talk of a possible return to Level 5 lockdown. I’m hesitant to admit this, but I actually don’t think that sounds like a totally unreasonable idea. I’m struggling to think any positive thoughts today. […]

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