I remember when I made the announcement to my parents that I’m packing up all my belongings and going to find some piece of mine in Joburg. It was welcomed with oohs and aahs about how dangerous the big city is and how I should consider Cape Town instead. The prospects that Cape Town would offer seemed more plausible to my family members. I would be close to home, meaning my mom would pop in anytime, plus Cape Town was nowhere near as dangerous as Joburg.
When I had finally convinced them that I was fully capable of taking care of myself one of my uncles suggested I watch Tsotsi to be reminded of how dangerous the city could be. That plan flopped. Then over my school holidays my cousins took me to the beaches, vineyards and mountain to supposedly show me all the things that I would be missing. This plan also flopped so I geared up all that I owned and made my way to the big bad city.
Arriving at OR Tambo I was not greeted by the big bad creatures that were supposedly awaiting my arrival. Well, not until I had to make my way to the CBD and eventually Braamfontein which would be my home. There they were. The grey abandoned buildings that were the habitat of the creatures.
Navigating my way to my new home, one thing that struck me was the lack of PDA that you would normally see in cities such as the one that I refused. Even in restaurants it seemed that people where there to work or get straight to the business of having their meals and leaving. Forget unromantic, I thought the people were plain unfriendly.
Later that night on a phonecall with my uncle, he probed on whether I had seen the “Tsotsi’s” as presented in the film and I completely understood why Johannesburg and its people are seen as this monstrosity. People outside of the city use movies and whatever other media references to shape their perception of what the city is and how the people who inhabit it are.
The fact that there aren’t any romantic representations in local box offices of a Joburg love story further ensure that the city is seen as one that lacks love. Just the other day parts of the city were closed down for the shoot of the international production Avengers which is far from romantic. This also coincided with a new local film screening of iNumber Number which is also a very grunge and violent representation of the city about gangsterism and shootings.
Is Johannesburg just an unromantic city? With so many scary images of the city being sent to those that are not in the city it really begs the question. Despite all these images, there should at least be a single story in this concrete jungle that represents its own version of love. Cities like London and New York manage to showcase softer sides of their busy and also sometimes dangerously perceived cities, what is stopping Joburg filmmakers? Surely the lack of beaches, vineyards and mountains that Cape Town has to offer should not be a limitation to tell a romantic story.