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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Johannesburg’s Utilitarian Relationship with Memory

I have to confess to developing a little bit of a crush on big, brash, bad-boy Jozi. Different cities produce different crimes. The psycho-geography of a place shapes its inhabitants – criminal or not – as it does its crime writers. You leave South Africa’s mountainous Mother City, sedate, and somewhat purse-lipped on a chilly Cape day and a couple of hours later you are landing in Johannesburg. It is like another world.

Johannesburg rushes up at you as the plane banks and circles where the township houses are corn-rowed over the stripped, red earth. As you drop down towards the airport the traffic glints in golden ribbons in the afternoon sun. The swimming pools are blue squares in suburban gardens. The sky is hazed with dust, smoke and pollution. A comforting reminder that the gritty engine of South Africa’s economy is still working.

We slip into the traffic. Jo’burg drivers, by the way, are much better than Capetonians who have a frighteningly creative approach to the rules of the road. The city, the biggest manmade forest in the world is gorgeous in spring. All the jacaranda trees have flowered at once, purpling the streets with blossoms. Even the man-eating potholes look pretty. I am enchanted by the combination of concrete and this extravagant and ephemeral beauty.


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