10 Things I’ve learned after a decade in Johannesburg

ImageMy husband (Siraaj Cassiem) and I arrived in Jozi (Johannesburg) in 2003, so 2013 marked a decade in the City of Gold. I am originally from Cape Town, and whenever I heard of Johannesburg, I always had this vision of doom and gloom and inner city squalor, as this was mostly what was seen on television.

So it was with a tad of trepidation that I agreed to join my husband in Jozi when he was transferred there in 2003, when he worked for eTV. Apparently, some of the biggest forms of stress involve moving house, moving to a new city and changing jobs – and I was doing all 3 in one step with this move.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law lived in Pretoria at the time, so he was able to take us around to view possible places to rent, which we had done a month before Siraaj moved to Johannesburg. We found a lovely cottage to rent in Jan Smuts Avenue in Parktown North, which was very central.

The big day came on 2 September 2003. Siraaj had moved up a month before me, as I needed to work out my notice period at work. I put my car on the train the day before and flew up to Egoli.

It was blazing hot when I arrived at OR Tambo Airport and I saw this as a warm welcome from the city. Once I got settled in at our new little cottage, we went to a house party in Kensington. There we met some interesting Jozi folks who came from various parts of the country and were involved in an array of vocations. This was the start of a few years of sometimes raucous parties, networking events, cooking evenings and generally a very active social life – more so than we ever had in Cape Town, and more importantly, we were interacting with people who represented the Rainbow Nation of Mzansi. It was also a decade of an array of jobs, working in the film and television industries – starting with the now defunct Movie Camera Company (MCC), The Weakest Link, Spirit Sundae, Power of 10, Strictly Come Dancing, iDentity, Women in Science, various pitching sessions, and interviews.

So, what have I learned in the past decade?

  1. The only constant is change: Since 2003, I’ve made friends, lost friends, couples that were/are friends have married, gotten divorced, found other loves, moved cities, had kids etc.
  2. Keep up with technology: Back in 2003, there was no Twitter and no Facebook – hard to believe I know! Keeping up with technology is so important in this day and age, and in order to remain relevant, one needs to have an online presence. Taking things one step further, nowadays it is as easy as pie to set up a blog of your own – maintaining it with good quality content and getting followers is another kettle of fish though, which involves time, passion and dedication. And taking the importance of technology even further, is the need to code. Check out www.code.org.
  3. Jozi is the world’s largest man-made forest: Now, coming from Cape Town, this was difficult to believe, but you only need to see the view from the Westcliff Four Seasons Hotel in order to believe this.
  4. Jo’burgers are super friendly: When I told my boss (a former Gautenger, who moved to Cape Town) back in 2003 that I was moving to Johannesburg, the first thing he said (after congratulations) was that Jo’burgers are very friendly and open to meeting new people. This has rung true for us, as in most circumstances, when one is at events or parties or any sort of get-together, I have not felt that “clique vibe” that one sometimes experiences in Cape Town or elsewhere.
  5. Jozi is a melting pot of cultures: We have made an array of friends from different parts of South Africa and Africa, via work or socially, different shapes and sizes, religions, colours and vocations. If we had stayed in Cape Town, all of this would not have been possible.
  6. Get a GPS: When I first got to Jozi, I had set up a number of job interviews all over the city. A GPS was an almost unknown gadget at the time, at least to me, so the old map book had to do, and it did – I navigated my way through the (sometimes intimidatingly large) highways and byways of Gauteng using my wits, advice and my trusted and well-thumbed through map book. Nowadays, I have the Navigon App on my iPhone, which helps me tremendously, but I will fondly remember my physical navigation days. Which brings me to another similar point – you will drive in Gauteng, more so than you have ever in your life. In fact, if you have to commute to work and drive to meetings, you will spend most of your time on the road.
  7. Celebrity is made in Jozi: Sorry Cape Town, but this is true. You may think you are a celebrity in any other part of the country, but if nobody knows you in Gauteng, then you are not. If you really want to make it big (in every way) then you best dust off your show reel and head to the land of summer thunder storms and lightning. An interesting anecdote: We rented a flat in Illovo a few years back, and 3 well-known soap stars lived in the same apartment building. One used to pop over for chats and quick cuppa tea, the second one never greeted even when passing on the stairs and the third one I only saw in the parking garage. In the complex where we live now, our previous unit where we lived before, was rented by the then fiancé (now wife) of a very famous Springbok rugby player. I saw him packing the trailer for her when she moved out (and on to Cape Town, where their mansion was later featured on Top Billing – where else?) And, oh yes, I drive pass the home of DJ Fresh every day. He was once a guest on a show I used to produce, and years later I ran into him at the local shopping centre, I greeted and he remembered me, I was super impressed, and that laugh of his is just infectious!
  8. Malls on every corner, so get a mani/pedi: Malls, malls, malls everywhere, in big suburbs, in small suburbs, and I bet you that each one has a nail bar. So, that was the other thing I noticed when I first arrived in Gee Pee. 90% of the women are so manicured – from coiffed head to painted toes in expensive heels. Not a flip flop in sight here, oh no! I quickly learned that one had to take care of one’s appearance here in order to get work, be promoted and look good in front of the “step and repeat” board at events. If all else fails, at least you can do a DIY mani/pedi at home, nowadays with the financial cost, DIY has become de rigueur!
  9. Do NOT keep up with the Kumalos, Govenders, Joneses or Baatjies: Comparing yourself to others will only lead to despair. Enough said!
  10. There is always the promise of potential in Jozi: Call me naïve, but there always seems to be a feeling of “bright lights, big city and anything is possible” in Johannesburg. The City of Gold, Egoli, Jozi, called it what you like, but that song by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” reminds me of what is possible right here. So, if anyone is feeling apprehensive about GP, after 10 years here, all I can say is go for gold!
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