Let’s start off by setting the record straight. Germiston was never a classy place. Now, before anyone feels offended, let me explain. The address of Germiston never quite placed you in the same class as people from, say, Randburg. We were better off than folk from Brakpan, and possibly Alberton, but definitely still East Rand riff raff.
Yes, Klippoortje had amazing houses with huge stands, and yes, Bedfordview falls under greater Germiston, and that suburb has enough giant doors, urinating statues on 24-foot walls and cringe-worthy “chiq” to hide behind. However, coming from Germiston I always had to defend my city as being a decent place to people I met around the country.
I grew up in Primrose and moved to Lambton as a teenager. I drove through the Germiston CBD every day of my life and used to buzz home late at night on my 50cc Yamaha DT 50 popcorn machine. Germiston was not half bad. As a child I’d play arcade games against the Portuguese boys at the corner cafe, and a few years later we’d walk through Golden Walk shopping centre. Heck, my sister wowed the crowds in the Miss Butterfly pageant in the city hall and I’d be in the library weekly. When my dad had a few rand to spare once or twice a year we’d be treated to the Porterhouse in the centre of Germiston. Well, I may as well treasure those memories because it is all gone.
I drove through Germiston CBD for the first time in more than a decade and I was devastated. My passenger, who still lives beyond the great trash heap, told me he thinks it is the ugliest city in the world. It may just be. Abandoned buildings stare at you, road surface is a luxury and shuttered doors of once-proud small vendors reflect the harsh sun. It is dirty, ugly and run down, seemingly beyond repair. What have you done Ekhuruleni? Where has tax money gone? It is a disgusting symbol of urban decay at its worst. Go drive past the magistrate’s court. I pray I never have to go there because I would probably be mugged halfway between my car and the trash heap.
And my beloved Primrose? It is no more. I went to my old house and looked over the wall and saw dozens of people living in prefab temporary dwellings. So I asked around – it appears Primrose is one giant informal settlement for African migrants, each stand hosting dozens of families squashed into structures that would not pass any building test, nor the unenforced bylaws.
I drove to see an old colleague and parked a few metres from the Police station. I came back to two fines – one as the metro cop walked up the road, and the other five minutes later as he walked back down the road – for the exact same offense. It seems the boredom of living in an urban slum knows no end.
Why does it have to be this way in South Africa? Why does anything old have to become a symbol of anarchy and decay? And Ekhuruleni, it is a tragedy. However, the City of Joburg is hardly better. Drive along Jules Street and it will hit home: these people have been abandoned.