re: one

re: like re-visiting, re-tracing ones steps

it is funny how it sometimes comes together. my ongoing discussions with n about south africa back in the days, and him telling me about the former hotspot / place to be in johannesburg: hillbrow. then shortly after i stumble on tv over a bbc-documentary about: hillbrow. with a very nervous, stressed out reporter. well, for good reasons. one of the mindblowing scenes was when he asked a guy as to why they killed these police men “well, we wanted to sell their weapons”, which gets delivered so deadpan that i nearly had to laugh at the monstrosity of it all.

and then, forwarded through different email-accounts i have received the below email. i do not even know from whom it comes originally. it is a rather bitter retracing. a thank you to the unknown author.

and yes, i have been to johannesburg, and beside the incredible luxury, the gated communities and an amazing amount of really big fuck off cars you also find what you see below. the sick thing is that there is even worse: one has only to drive into cape town along shanti towns that seem to go on forever. and i guess the above cited little scene / sentence hit me so much because there it expresses a carelessness towards the human life which runs through society that is very scary. there were moments where it got surreal – i remember driving with n at night through downtown jo’burg and feeling transportet into a dystopian science fiction universe. i wasn’t afraid, beacuse somehow this could not be real… and this memory and looking at the below pictures reminded me strongly of the writing of j.g. ballard, who just passed away…

so let’s have a ride…

Bree Street , Johannesburg , Where Gold (Used) to Lie in the Street, Now, it’s Just Rubbish
Bree Street is one of the main thoroughfares running through the city centre of Johannesburg , from east to west. It runs right through the CBD, and used to be one of the major economic centers, as well as being a residential area.
Today, as you can see, it is a slum, another shattered, filthy, ruined monument to the “New South Africa .”


A Visit to Yeoville


Yeoville was one of the ‘trendiest’ places in Johannesburg . Its main thoroughfare, Rockey Street, was the place for a very late night out, and here one could find an eclectic mix of exotic shops, dining establishments, clubs and who knows what all else, if you really looked.
And today? Well, let’s let the pictures do the talking. My visit to Yeoville:

Corner of Raymond and Rocky Streets, Yeoville. This used to be quite a famous restaurant, I can’t recall its name offhand, but I am sure it was Mama’s.

Above: All that remains of the South Street cafe, Bellevue East, Yeoville. It’s still open, but I didn’t venture too close because of what appeared to be sewerage in the gutter, which really put me off a bit.

Above: The corner of Rockey and Bezuidenhout Streets, Yeoville. There used to be a late night takeway on this corner. It was a Kentucky Fried Chicken once upon a time as well.


Above: Looking down Bezuidenhout Street towards Rockey Street .


Above: A little further up Bezuidenhout Street …


Above: The BP Garage on the north corner of the major Rockey and Bezuidenhout Street intersection. One of two petrol stations in Rockey Road , both closed down due to being continuously robbed out of business. It was confirmed that the last owner of this petrol station was shot dead with an AK-47 during a robbery. The station was just abandoned, hence the pump’s pipes hang loosely there, normally BP would take their stuff away.

Above: A typical gutted house, corner of Muller and Bezuidenhout Streets. Even the roof has been stolen.


Above: Smashed apartments, Saunders Road Yeoville. Currently inhabited by squatters. The stench is unbelievable.


Above: Inhabited house, lower Rockey Street , towards Observatory. ALL of the houses here look like this. I recall that the chief photographer for Associated Press in 1990 telling me how happy he was to be buying a house here, and he looked at me all funny when I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea. Like all “good” liberals, he has probably since voted with his feet.


Above: Typical filthy apartment block, Pope Street .


Above: Street scene, Dunbar Street . Taken from my car while moving, as by now I had attracted attention and was being followed by an aggressive group of locals. It was time to leave Yeoville.
A Tour Through Hillbrow,


Above: Joel Street , Berea


Above: Apartments, Olivia Street , Berea


Above: Apartments, cnr Lily Ave and Olivia Street , Berea


Above: The ruins of the Sands Hotel, O’Reilly Street , Hillbrow


Above: The main entrance to the Sands Hotel, O’Reilly Street , Hillbrow — or rather should I say the ruins of the Sands Hotel main entrance.

Above: The ruins of the Mark Hotel , O’Reilly Road , Hillbrow. Incredible to think I actually stayed there while on holiday in 1984.


Above: A close-up of the ruins of the Mark Hotel , O’Reilly Road , Hillbrow.


Above: The main entrance to the old Hillbrow Squash Centre, Pretoria Street . The escalators have long since been smashed, and the one on the right is in such poor condition that it is dangerous, hence it has been blocked with an old car bonnet.


Above: Smashed block, claiming to be home to a High School, corner Pretoria and Quartz Streets.


Above: Parkview Apartment block, Lily Ave , Berea . Fairly typical state of the buildings in the suburb today. Inhabited.


Above: Burnt out and gutted apartments, Catherine Street , Hillbrow.


Above: Corner Soper and Catherine Roads, Hillbrow. Fairly typical street scene.


Above: A gutted and bricked up building, corner Claim and Kotze Streets, Hillbrow.


Above: A close-up of the bricked up Big Deals….


Above: The Nedbank Plaza and the ruins of the Cafe Zurich , formerly a great late night hangout which used to serve the most wonderful Black Forest cake… Pretoria Street , Hillbrow.


Above: The entrance to the Highpoint “shopping centre” on Pretoria Street , as it looks today. Note the very gutted building on the right. This seems to be a common pattern throughout the area.


Above: The Highpoint apartment block: back in the 1980s, it was the place to stay — if you had an apartment there, you really had arrived. Very popular with the rich students at Wits University , it was…


Above: Anyone remember buying records at the Hillbrow Record Centre, Pretoria Street , Hillbrow? Well you can’t anymore. It’s boarded and barred up, like many shops in the area.


Above: Street scene, Pretoria Road . Formerly one of the main shopping roads in Hillbrow. The mattresses and blankets are from locals who sleep in the streets.


Apartment dwellers, Claim Street , Joubert Park , central Johannesburg


Apartments, Berea , north eastern Johannesburg


The Rosa Hotel , Berea : boarded up and abandoned, but broken into by squatters and now occupied.
The Ruins of Johannesburg . . .


Above: Jeppe, east Johannesburg , inhabited houses

The View From the Gauteng Legislature Building
It’s a funny thing, the New South Africa . After taking over the old Johannesburg City Hall complex and turning it into the legislative assembly for the new ‘Gauteng’ province (essentially the old Witwatersrand region), presumably to make it pride of place for the province, they seemed to have forgotten what is all around them.. When one stands directly in front of the Legislature building, this is the view one has to the north (note the flagpoles!)

And below, a close-up of the view:


And below this is view one has to the east, or directly in front of you (the old Rissik Street Post Office. In 2003, the building, which has been empty since 1996, had its clock hands, bell and the entire copper dome stolen).


The Vanishing Impala
Oppenheimer Park , situated between President and Pritchard Streets, was a pleasant green spot in between the high rise commercial blocks of the old Johannesburg . Its central feature was a fountain, over which leapt a stunning piece of sculpture: a series of Impala, all linked. The statue was so marvelous that it was a tourist attraction in the official guides to Johannesburg . Here is what it looked like then:


By the late 1990s, Oppenheimer Park had been trashed by the New South Africa . Bits of the statue were stolen by being hack sawed off, probably to be sold as scrap metal. Finally, the inevitable happened, and the entire statue was stolen, hacked off its pedestal. On the pictures below, the original mountings can still be seen. The council has placed a table where the statues and fountain used to be.


yes, quite a trip. and yes, while i found it just spooky to see big parts of a town basically in ruins i guess it must be again different for someone who knew this toen before….

and no, i do not think it should be read as an excuse for “the old south africa”. and there is where my bitterness comes in: as many, i took to the streets and have been vocal against the apartheid regime. of course it wasn’t all that simple as i thought back then, but then it seemed like we were successfull (sweet, isn’t it): south africa was suddenly a place of hope: transition withouth war, maybe the most liberal and open constitution in the world – and a way to deal with its past in such an amazing way that still leaves me humble. much to learn from. and then of course the great man nelson mandela. south africa suddenly stood for a new world. a tolerant world where we all will live together.

yes, give me hope, joanna..

but then it now seems to go the way to many nations go: bored, sleeping politicans in the parliament more interested in picking their noses then in trying to solve any of the problems. wasn’t there a promise that we all become sisters and brothers – or more pragmatic: to provide housing and education to all?

but then it seems we all are satisfied – you know, it is now a democracy, and not apartheid anymore… well, that is when i get bitter. also toward myself. i am not taking to the streets anymore. even when i still believe that a society that allows that people live like shown above is a brutally careless society. but then we do not have a clear enemy anymore, and we woul maybe have to accuse the same ones that only 20 years ago we cheered…

no more international coalition of artists to demand that the promises given shall be fullfilled… but then it might became now apparent that the mayn facets of this country can hardly been fit in a catchy refrain. and yes, we have enough problems ourselves – crisis and all. but then did we not have already also our problems back then?

but then it is still a beautiful country with beautiful people – and weren’t there rumours that the inner city of jo’burg shall be re-developed again?

so, please, give me hope joanna…

10 Responses to “re: one”

  1. R in C Says:

    what a beautiful song …. I forgot about it …. better Joanna than Obama

  2. R in C Says:

    check it out:

    Desmond Dekker :

  3. broeckelstein Says:

    gimme gimme gimme……

  4. Sweating Hands Says:

    Thank you for posting those pictures. There is a tragic beauty in them that has opened my eyes.

  5. Linda Says:

    Hi, it`s sad to see what it was and what it is now. Ironicaly the only
    promise kept was `we will redevellope the inner city of Joburg’. So

  6. Nikita Says:

    What a pity our country is now in such a state! I was ONCE in Pretoria Street and can remember some of the places you have on some of these pics. SAD that nothing happens and to know that people just accept it as it is…South Africa is now really turning into a REAL third world country.

  7. ARM Says:

    There is no rainbow nation….

  8. Eric Says:

    Quite sad. I lived in Hillbrow, Joubert Park, Berea and Yeoville when I just came out of The Army and I remember how vibrant, alive it was. I used to walk or take the bus wherever I went no real concern.

    The one photo you have was the view from my window, only alot different in your photo than in my day.

    I still remember walking down Claim street in 1990 past a the Hillbrow flee market seeing black smoke and lots of cops and somebody telling me that somebody had just been “Necklaced” in broad daylight, infront on everybody.

    Thats when I decided it was time to leave the area.

    (To those who do not know what “Necklacing” is, its when they put a car tyre around somebody’s neck pour petrol over them and burn them to death.)

  9. Maurice Smithers Says:

    May I suggest you take a trip to Yeoville to see it for yourself. Or visit our website, or look at my Facebook page for a more balanced reality of Yeoville as she is and not the jaundiced inaccurate picture presented by the person you got your pictures from (a site picturesquely described as ‘the death of Johannesburg’. Joburg is far from dead and Yeoville far from the negative place presented. Some of the information is just plain wrong.

  10. Andrew Stengel Says:

    The Oppenheimer Springbok Fountain is not lost as reported above –
    after it was vandalized it was restored by the artist’s son and installed elsewhere in johannesburg.

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