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Visit JHB? I double dare ya! March 3, 2009

Posted by baldricman in General, News.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Jeremy Clarkson recently wrote an article entitled “I dare you to visit Johannesburg, the city for softies”. (See it here)

I found the article highly entertaining, and not without some highly relevant truths in it. Of course, there are the usual high number of Clarksonesque exaggerations and outlandish statements, but in my opinion, these are what make the article entertaining. (For the record, I feel the same way about Top Gear: he’s a prat, most of the time, though very funny, but anyone who takes his reviews on cars seriously is in dire need of some lightening up.)

Anyway, the article seems to have caused quite a stir amongst residents, expats, and visitors alike.

And while browsing the comments people posted on two sites (News24 and UK Times Online), I came to the undeniable conclusion that the vast majority were disturbing polar:
 On one hand, we have the terminally pessimistic lot, who seem rather determined to make sure nobody ever sets foot on South African soil (yeah, like that will solve our problems). They can be usually divided into 2 camps: the expats, who left this cursed land years ago but, like a spurned ex-lover, just can’t seem to let go), and those that continually threaten to leave (I say, “Go ahead, make my day”). Regardless of which camp, they can usually be identified by their aptitude at selectively quoting the unpleasant statistics as gospel, and the more cheery statistics as “government propaganda”.

And on the other hand, we have the infuriatingly optimistic folk seeing all that is Jozi-ish through rose-tinted glasses. These odd creatures (soon to be on the endangered list) are most noted for pointing out, sometimes a little insensitively, that they have never in their 35 years of living in Brixton, been a victim of crime of any sort (at least, as far as they can remember).
Noteworthy is a curious sub-class to this group, growing in population yearly: they are also expats, yet who display a distinct penchant for noting that they have been more victimised *since* emigrating.

This broader group also displays selective tendencies in statistics-quoting (though precisely the opposite to the first group)


So, why is it so hard to be optimistic about a country, without denying its issues?
Can we really be positive and proud without being called naive, and can we be critical and challenge apathy, without being called complaining pessimists?
Why are we forced by some unspoken rule to “pick sides”?

Here’s a thought: Maybe we need to learn that South Africa is a little like our delinquent child: You correct her, you monitor her, and you tirelessly teach her the values of honesty, integrity, and accountability, intervening when necessary.
But you still love her even when she makes mistakes, you work for her, you boast about her to strangers, and you always have the highest hopes and dreams for her.

That’s how I hope I behave; I know I want to.


1. Deems - March 3, 2009

One thing many should remember is that grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And views on just about any place will always differ between a visitor and a resident.

I too experienced exactly those differenced upon visiting London for two weeks and living there for 3.5 years. As an outsider to the UK you’re not exposed to all the things a resident is.

Unfortunately, Jozi (and South Africa as a whole) has been marked with the stigma of being unsafe yet in many other countries (yes, even the well-developed Western ones) you get pretty much of the same there too.

2. baldricman - March 3, 2009

@Deems: fully agree with you. I worry that people sometimes make judgments on South Africa in an emotionally charged, knee-jerk manner. I also don’t want to criticise anyone who has left SA because of crime: everyone has their own values and priorities. I just don’t like it when they bash South Africa, and even those of us that stay. But then, the same applies to the “patriots” who hurl abuse at our prodigal siblings across the water.
*bursts into chorus of “Why can’t weeee be friends?”*

3. Allen - March 4, 2009

When I read that article, I was struck by a sense that he was just trying to be as contrary as possible to everything he must have ever heard about jhb. The fact is, jhb is a VERY large city. It has its wealthy suburbs, its slums, it’s business areas, places for the new money, places for the old money, places for the no-money-but-too-proud-to-give-in-to-poverty, and so on. If Jeremy had walked into Hillbrow, there’s a quite reasonable chance that he would have been murdered for his shoes. If he was to walk through Melville, he would experience incredible food, incredible party atmosphere, and been ambushed by 45354235423 immigrants begging for food, selling their art or pushing drugs. Sandton impresses by the way the kugels have all become black (Skinny boob-job black woman wearing R50k worth of jewellery and saying “Ya doll!” into her cellphone in a loud nasal voice, next to her husband who looks like a Hansa Pilsener commercial), Sofiatown looks so low-rent without being threatening.

Fact is that 100 different visitors can have 100 different experiences, and saying that jhb is a deadly warzone because some volunteer aid worker got hijacked and shot is about as valid as saying it’s a utopia because Jeremy Clarkson had a pleasant stay.

baldricman - March 4, 2009

And thats really my point, that people are so inclined (almost obligated) to polarise all their personal impressions of a place, rather than attempting to understand that their experience (and that of their extended family) is but a drop in the ocean. Important, yes. Relevant, you betcha. The be-all and end-all? Well…

Deems - March 4, 2009

@Allen – nicely put. One thing I might add is that the number of immigrants should actually be a rolling counter (you’re already out by 384 since posting).

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