Springtime in Berea

20 Sep

Spring in Berea




This photo was taken from the Jabulani Boy’s Home in the Johannesburg CBD. It’s in Hillbrow, at a point between the Hillbrow Police Station and the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School.


Hillbrow is an amazing place. It borders and spills over the Johannesburg Central Business District. For some, it is the heart of Johannesburg. For the municipality, it is an irritation. The City of Johannesburg is making a concerted effort to make Johannesburg a safer, more cosmopolitan city. This involves trying to clean up Hillbrow, which has a mind and spirit of its own.


Hillbrow contains little Nigeria, the drug centre of Gauteng (named after the Nigerian imigrants who make up a portion of the emigrant population, and are rumoured to control the drug trade in Gauteng). It also has Ponte, the famed skyscraper apartment building – the closest I’ve ever seen to a real life example of Foucault’s ‘panoptican’). There are as many legendary stories about Ponte as there are police roadblocks in Jozi on any given day…some say the top penthouse was home to many a sex and drug party… it used to house some of the richest and most well off residents of Johannesburg. Now it’s home to a mish mash of local and international people. I hope to explore Ponte some more as time goes on.

Back to the Jabulani Boy’s Home. The home is managed by a lovely woman called Stephanie, and houses around 30 boys all under the age of 18. Some have found their way to the Home by accident, others have been picked up from the street by the Home’s social workers and brought there. The boys are provided with schooling, food and a place to grow in. It’s a double story house tucked away in Hillbrow, and I was there dropping off books for the boys. There I met a young man who was HIV positive, abused as a child, and homeless. He had just stolen from the last relative who would take him in – his aunt – so that he could buy drugs.

Because he was already 18, the Home, which is already full to capacity, couldn’t take him in. The only alternative was to take him to the Hillbrow Police Station where a social worker would organise for him to be transported to a place of safety.

What do you tell a boy who sits in front of you and says that he wants to die? A boy who is only 5 years younger then you, but is coming from circumstances that are so completely foreign to your own? Pure rationality takes over. What is the best course of action, what can be done, what is the next logical step. Of course, all the time you’re trying to avoid the thought that you really just don’t know what to do or say. I find myself in circumstances like this all the time – in a place of hope you can find immense sadness. And in sadness you can find great hope. It sounds so terribly clichéd to say, but it is so characteristic of this city. Trying to tread the thin line between sadness and joy, misery and celebration has given Jo’burg a heart of gold.
















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