When we told anyone who knew anything about South Africa that we were coming to Johannesburg, the automatic response was, “But you must go to Cape Town.” Well, we have done, and there’s no doubt about it – it is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and has an enviable laid-back lifestyle. The temptation is to wonder why anyone who has a choice would live in Johannesburg, with the crime and the rubbish piled everywhere. But in fact Johannesburg does have an edge and a vitality that Cape Town lacks, and we’ve met quite a few who choose to make it their home.
A lot of that is down to culture. We’ve already mentioned the theatre here (and, courtesy of the POPArt theatre, that continues to be wonderful) but even more visible is the art. There are huge public artworks of all kinds, figurative and abstract. There is First Thursday, a monthly explosive celebration when the city’s magnificent galleries throw open their spaces (and supply free wine!) Most obvious of all is the street art: murals a tower block high, graffiti of all kinds covering just about every available wall with colour, wit, humour, life.
And it is art that is gradually colonising Johannesburg, bringing the city back to life a block at a time. Maboneng, Braamfontein, Rosebank are full of studios and galleries, which bring with them restaurants and bars, which bring loft apartments and shops. Gentrification maybe, but of the most benign kind; artification maybe.