View Full Version : my life

05-26-2008, 05:38 AM
as i leave the corp again, i leave you with this

http://www.wutang-corp.com/forum/../images/simon.jpg (http://www.wutang-corp.com/forum/simon.htm)
Hillbrow, she doesn't live here anymore……

For most ordinary South Africans, the thought of adventuring into the once vibrant area of Hillbrow is a no-no. But this was not always the case.

Hillbrow was once the partying circuit of South Africa, the trendiest area in the biggest city - the modern day version of Melville or Observatory in Cape Town. In the seventies, nightclubs used to close at dawn and people could walk home. After all, Hillbrow was also a fashionable place to live, with many houses and apartments built in the typical sixties / seventies 'art décor' style.

Time has not been kind, as indicated in Johannes Kerkorrel's 'Gee jou hart vir die Hillbrow' (Give your heart to the Hillbrow). Most of the hotels have been turned into residential brothels, the once famous Ponte City, the round hollow high-rise, has been turned into a den for drug dealers and criminals. Many houses are in dire derelict - most of them empty. Rent is at it's cheapest - one can rent a six roomed penthouse in Ponte City for a mere R2, 000.00 a month. Few minutes pass without the sound of screaming sirens or gunshots, suicides are high and the police, when they do decide to raid, never leave empty handed.

Red curtains, crack cocaine and heroin have replaced high heels, mini-skirts and marijuana.

It has been said that the current system of Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville will soon tire the South African black people. It tired the whites, or rather, scared them, in the late eighties and early nineties when the country made the democratic transition. Nelson Mandela,' South Africa is for Africans,' and all the rest. In 1995, the first arrest of a Nigerian drug dealer was made - crack cocaine was the substance. It was about at this point in the nineties that the American market for the drug was soaring - and why not? More addictive and cheaper than cocaine? Crime blessed Hillbrow with an environment of near perfect trading elements; high rise buildings (to couple with the soaring HiV/AIDS statistics i.e. desperation), police who were starting to toy with the idea of a little dabble here and there (easily met halfway with the bribes and free access to local prostitutes) and many social and political reasons leading to the massive influx of immigrants (military dictatorship at the time). Ninety percent of whom were Nigerians. Ninety percent of whom were illegal in every sense of the word. Nelson Mandela welcomed Africans from everywhere. To give the remarkable man his due credit, one must assume that the invitation extended was purely on the grounds of persecution; should you seek political asylum, we will grant it. Should you be a victim of human right violation, we will issue you with temporary residential status. A brave man with a past of inconceivable sacrifice extended an arm of welcome to anyone proving similar history. Remarkable compassion.

Unfortunately, the arm was ignored and, instead, the entire torso was devoured. Immigrants flocked into this country at such a rate that by 1998, four years after the invitation, an estimated 50,000.00 illegal Nigerians flocked the streets of Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville. Under Section 21 of the immigration act, Hillbrow was flooded with Africans (mainly Nigerians) seeking temporary refugee status. Mandela's act of kindness was abused, taken advantage of and would ultimately lead to the rape of Hillbrow, the destruction of its reputation and maybe even it's future.

In May 2002, a documentary entitled 'Guardians of Midnight' was shown on MNet, a national pay channel. It focused upon the Berea Emergency Services as the count down to New Year began, or shall I say, erupted. For 45 minutes, one was exposed to the most harrowing reality television this country has ever seen, leaving Fear Factor or Idol's nominations right at the back of the queue. Stabbings, shootings, casualty wards. Bystanders being hit by falling objects - or rather, objects like bottles and bricks and fridges being thrown from windows. Thank you Ponte. Emergency surgery, gut wounds, permanent disfigurement due to the broken bottle of an angry Nigerian. Rape, gang rape and child abuse. Your average New Year in Hillbrow. Perhaps the most discomforting issue; these incidents are not taking place in Mexico, Lagos or Brooklyn. As you sit, watching television in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, this happens twenty minutes away. The beloved country, the rainbow nation turns into a feast of violence, drugs and death in the New Year of it's capital's center. For Nelson Mandela, there can only be disappointment; the kindness (maybe even sympathy) has been spoilt by the evolution of Hillbrow to the point of it being safe to say that black South Africans are starting to fear the worst.

I could not help be selfish as I watched the documentary from my expensive sofa and bottle of wine. These people are Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Senegalese and Angolan. They are not South Africans. They are being treated in these hospitals for their gun shot wounds, all along it being our taxes keeping them alive. Why should I pay when the money is used keeping these people from dying? Why can it not be filtered into Soweto, build more schools or increase teacher's salaries? And for anyone who calls me xenophobic, here is the truth: research has now concluded that eighty-nine percent of illegal Nigerians are not here to seek asylum or look for jobs. They are here because of the relatively 'free reign' environment, the haven that Mandela suggested, to deal, steal and corrupt as many people as they can, killing, raping and establishing (what may soon be) an irreparable damage upon our progressive culture. Hillbrow is no longer a place near Johannesburg center. It's a suburb of Lagos and we are suffering for it.

The support for these illegal immigrants is astounding; agencies have been structured as bases for fair treatment. Aging hippies and the committees they have created called me inhumane when I took my case to them; telling me I had no idea of what I was talking about. I am a relic of apartheid, a ghost of the discriminative qualities this country was once notorious for. I never got the chance to finish my case; 'Angel' slammed the phone down on me. 'Don't you know what's happening in Africa? These people have no home!' What these agencies fail to recognize is the cost of keeping drug-dealers and others involved in crime. How can anyone justify the presence of a known syndicate, dealing in drugs and theft? Children are soliciting, HiV/AIDS is rampant, telephone wires have been cut down, landlords have given up the fight. The pressure on the government to improve is finally beginning to show - last week, the infamous Sands Hotel was shut down. But it won't be enough - as long as the perpetrators know the justice system stinks.

I recently came across a mother whose crack-cocaine addicted son was found dead in one of the rooms in Ponte. She is in mourning, but I believe her anger at the system will not end once she continues with her life. Instead, with my useless and futile encouragement, she'll establish a group that will host the parents and loved ones of every single child or teenager found dead in the hands of African drug dealers in Hillbrow. It will be a committee structured not upon xenophobic values, but upon the plain and simple moral principle. My instincts lead me to deduce that support will not be very hard to find; since May 1995, 136 children under the age of eighteen have died drug related deaths in the area. Twenty-two of these were held hostage at some point, eleven of them were murdered. There is a murky underworld right before us, and unlike Sicily or Chicago, the mess makes no effort to hide itself.

So, what do we do? The impossible, that's what. Politicians stop philandering for one minute, notice the damage and act immediately. They clean out Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville, arresting and evicting anyone who fails to prove his/ her nationality, status or identification - confiscating ID books, counterfeit cash, drugs and stolen goods in the process. The arrested in question will then go to various detention centers around the country, whilst the justice system evaluates exactly who is legal and who isn't. Once completed, a further list of criminal record is established - if anyone in detention hosts a record, investigation into the nature of the crime is the next step. If you contribute, pay your taxes and avoid drug dealing, rape, hijacking or murder, you may stay. However, if you are a burden on the economy - you go. And quickly. Black business establishes a base in Hillbrow, jobs are created, people move back and once again, it becomes the energetic and vibrant place it once was. Nightclubs, bistros, pavement cafes. People walk home at night. Ponte City becomes the archive capital of South Africa. People are fined on the spot if they litter. Police become noble again and Africa finally starts showing some responsibility for itself. In the second part of this, cows start flying, every single taxi in the country is governed and driven by a computer control center, Sophia Loren loses forty years, becomes twenty-two again, flies to Johannesburg, proposes on her knees to me and we get married on a beach in Italy.

There is simply no way to deal with this issue without causing an outcry; without being labeled a Bosnia or a Rwanda.

However, according to Mr. Raymond Dlamini, owner of MbroseZone Consultancy, there is a way. "You're telling me that the police are powerless. How many policemen and politicians do you think are involved in this mess? If you had all night, we couldn't go through the list of people I know are involved. And that's only the people I know." He stiffens in his chair, clearly uncomfortable. "My sense of the situation also hosts a fair amount of sympathy for the justice system. The police could never see what they were getting into - but look what's happened. The politicians took the same route. Now, we have a serious problem. When foreigners arrive in SA, they are more likely to be robbed by some 419 scam than to be hijacked which was the previous worry." His solution is simple, but only a start at the very most. "Get rid of the police currently operating in Hillbrow and Berea. Re-locate them or expel them. The police that are needed in Hillbrow must know nothing about the area of its inhabitants. They must come from tough areas, Polokwane or Kwa-Zulu Natal. These are the hardest of their kind - you can thank tribal warfare for that. And this is exactly what it is, tribal warfare, South Africans claiming their land and history from thugs and people bringing an end to our city." Although the tendency to generalize is manifested in this article (such is the nature), Nigerians who are legal citizens should understand the concern; they would face a much brighter future if their nefarious countrymen were to be removed.

Steve Okipa is illegal, I'm informed. He is usually armed and is known amongst the 'the brow' as a dealer at the top, meaning that he probably belongs to the invisible hierarchy of Nigerians. The hierarchy in operation consists of a panel. They are equal and there is certainly no 'Godfather'. They speak their own language. They 'teach' drug trafficking to new arrivals, hoping to build their syndicate by way of numbers and loyalty to one another. They do not 'sample' their trade. Their system is highly organized - if there is a method behind the creation of these internal structures, the Nigerians make the other local criminal organizations pale in comparison. The Israeli mafia are good at intimidation, bribery and theft, but they lack humility; there is too much personal greed amongst its 20 or so members, usually resulting in them knocking each other off. One must also remember that diamond smuggling is a lot harder than selling crack cocaine. The Chinese (Triads) are loyal, but the Endangered Species Unit of the law is coming down hard on them. Operation Neptune, which for the past three years has targeted Chinese nationals smuggling Perlemoen, is finally starting to yield good results.

The Lebanese are downright disorganized and un-ambitious; their presence is limited to intimidation inside nightclubs, pushing people around for no reason other than respect it would seem.

The man I am meeting for coffee in a dilapidated Yeoville internet café is wanted for questioning by the police; only through rigorous researching and dirty networking has this meeting been made possible.

Not only am I scared, but I also feel like I am betraying the system by meeting with him on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. I look out the window at children sleeping in bus shelters, white beggars sifting through dirt bins and the omnipresent scattering of young black men, deep in pigmentation, standing in hallways or café entrances, looking for their buyers. White youngsters in BMW's drive slowly past, looking for their sellers.

For every action there is a reaction, especially when the power lies beyond you. Steve Okipa does not arrive and maybe this is a good omen. I feel like a guinea pig in scientific hijacking experiment. I pay the bill and leave, trying to escape the rain as I run. I look at Ponte through the temperamental showers, catching only brief parts of it. Red curtains, some shut, some open. Masses of litter decorating the outside areas, broken windows, peeling paint. In this City of Dreams, the lifts don't work and you dare not attempt the staircases. People who retired to the area thirty years ago are now ailing and desperate - some don't leave their flats.

With no where to go, their one small pleasure is met by the raw charm of Innocent Shabalala, a proud Zulu, who runs the local 'Meals on Wheels'. "To most of these elders, mostly dying or sick or terrified, I am the only person they are seeing. When I do my deliveries, they sit me down and we talk, sometimes for hours," he says, chuckling. "I am not scared of these Nigerians and they know it. After all, I am a Zulu. My blood is rage and they see it in me. I have been shot, stabbed, my clients have been murdered and they've even stolen my van," he says with a smile that nearly swallows his face. "I will not let people like this scare or me or the good people here. They are beginning to realize that. Whilst he talks, the bigger picture emerges.

Innocent Shabalala has no idea of the magnitude of his presence and of the service he provides. I have no doubt that, without even knowing it, he is saving people's lives and filling an empty void in amongst a culture of rabid fear.

In the mess that is urban crawl, Hillbrow has emerged as the example no city wants. Johannesburg mayor, Amos Masondo, has made this very clear. In many ways, he inherited the worst of it; the task of having to formulate a plan of correction aimed at a nearly impenetrable suburb, implement it, track it and produce results at the end of his term. One of the greatest Mayors ever, Antonio Bassolino, had a similar problem with Naples at the beginning of his term. Like Hillbrow, Naples consisted of drugs, illegal gambling, washing hanging out of windows, petty crime all the time knowing that although it cannot be seen, a bigger power governs the city. He was talking about the Mafia of course, and it's deep and historic connection with southern Italy. In the last seven years, Naples has started to re-invent itself as the center of Italian culture, like it once was.

The vast cultural heritage is something which Bassolino has used as his weapon - and it seems to be working. Crime is down, people are starting to implement community - policing forums and neighborhoods are monitored by plain clothed policemen on motorbikes.

With the inspiration of Bassolino, it cannot be impossible to cure Hillbrow. Naples is nearly twenty times the size of the suburb with eighteen times the population. If even small, practical changes can be made to a city, why can't they apply to a suburb? Well, firstly, looking at The Sands Hotel or Ponte City doesn't exactly conjure up memories of Italian mothers singing 'O Sole Mio' whilst cooking spaghetti. The washing hanging out of windows is a trademark of Italian romance; Italian buildings do not have the same charm if they have no washing decorating the ledges. Neither does Hillbrow host cultural history - no volcanoes near by, no exotic past rulers and certainly no good looking teenagers on vespas, smoking, talking and driving at the same time.

Is it not peculiar that Naples can manage some honest sustenance of effort toward development, especially considering the underworld content and the rules governing it? And yet, across the Mediterranean and through Africa, a small suburb, with similar problems, has it's evil staring the authorities in the face yet the latter seem helpless to answer? The brutal reality of a dire comparison.

Before I finished my research, I did come face to face with a Nigerian dealer. It was in Bryanston, of all places, a wealthy up market northern suburb. Christopher is 23 years old and hails from Lagos. He did not come here in search of a job, nor a better education. He came to Johannesburg to 'sell the shit' because he had heard how easy it was to make drug money. His parents kicked him out of home and, at the age of 20, he found himself in The Mimosa Hotel, pimping young girls ("Zimbabwean, Cameroonian, Senegalese - anything you want man!") His job nets him about R6, 000.00 a week - an inch of what the syndicate members apparently earn. I suddenly wished Steve Okipa had turned up. How does he get these different women to work for him? "My man, you know Johannesburg okay, it is like the center for Africa. These girls come here to get proper jobs, a better life. We promise them everything - it is so easy to get here. We meet them at the airport, take them to Hillbrow from where they start paying off their airfares. We give them drugs or we make them our girls. Same with guys, only we don't fuck them!" I feel very removed. "These guys are used for other stuff." What other stuff? "Nah man, can't tell you."

He doesn't have to. I know it already - armed robberies, hijackings and smuggling counterfeit money. That is what your average refugee, promised a better life by one of the syndicates, has to work with. Not everyone, but some.

As Christopher walks away with chuckles of 'Maybe next time, I struggle with the uselessness of it all; how it has gone beyond sociological reasoning and political excuse. This is your typical, 'I will talk and Hollywood will listen,' scenario, invited guests become the hosts and the son is caught inflagrante with the domestic's daughter.

One phrase springs to mind; 'Things fall apart', taken from William Butler Yeats' 'The Second Coming'. Ironically, this became the title of a book by distinguished Nigerian Author, Chinua Achebe.

Live in the north with pretty people, money and classy restaurants to keep you occupied and you'll find that you can manage without having to venture into this dark territory. In the final days of my research, my director boss and I took the afternoon off work to have a drink. As we drove down Oxford road into Illovo, we caught the image of the sun shining directly onto Ponte City. Like something completely out of control, Ponte looks almost robotic. Masses of steel and glass reflect in such a way that you could be excused for thinking the 'Coke Palace' was actually alive. And maybe it is, maybe the center will hold - the opposite of what Yeats suggested - growing, devouring, constantly on the look out for new victims. In that, maybe there is an explanation for Christopher's presence in Bryanston; like a giant octopus spreading it's tentacles, soldiers are sent out to test the ground, to smell the service - the potential for more destructive offering. I'm tempted to believe that it is within this nature that Africa will eat itself, but I am comforted by the willing energy that one sees on a daily basis, acts of contribution from all races, together, boiling something unique in this melting pot.

'Gee jou hart vir die Hillbrow'. At the suggestion of my boss, we take a detour onto the M1. We enter Parktown via St. Andrews road and head straight, eventually joining Harrow road and, with a bit of winding, we enter onto Kotze street. The Meals on Wheels offices are shut - no one seems to be home today. We notice that a brick has shattered a section of glass panel at the entrance. Maybe it is one of the many distractions people sacrifice; a broken window spells robbery, other potential criminals will hopefully subscribe to the point of there being nothing to steal. We cannot find Innocent Shabalala anywhere, the drink I hoped we'd take him out for will have to wait for another day. I am disappointed - I wanted to show my boss the positive aspect of my research, the one and sadly only good memory that I will have made through this tedious process of investigating murky underworlds. As we drive off, I remember that if we were to take him away, we'd be keeping the people who depend on his company lonely and sad.

I can almost see it now - old English and Afrikaans white South Africans, stuck away in their high-rise apartments, never having dreamt that there would be a time in their lives where fear would overcome principle, or visa versa, sitting and drinking tea with a giggling Zulu, telling him about the times when Lulu and Petula Clark played in the nightclubs, about the young men and women that used to sit on the pavements drinking coffee at 6am and about the happiness and maybe decadence that Hillbrow once inspired when she lived there.

She doesn't live there anymore.
Simon Reader is a producer and consultant for a South African communications company. He intends to complete his first novel within the next year.The views of the writer are his own and may not be supported by the website- Editor