The Top is open for business.
The 50th floor of the Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest skyscraper, is gritty and a little bit dirty and no-nonsense, as far as these urban observatory things go. Every picture comes out dusty and the lifts are squeaky and heavy with determined office workers and it doesn’t get much prettier on the way down – the former five-star Carlton Hotel is still closed and what I am told was once an elegant and upscale below-ground shopping centre is now a loud bustling mess. Street-level is more of the same, with every corner and flat surface taken up for the purpose of selling something, displaying something, browsing, sitting, waiting, chatting and occasionally dancing to your pick among several tunes floating in the air like street food smells at any given time. Sandton seems a thousand miles away.
They built an ersatz Manhattan, it came out great, everybody ran away and other people filled the void, and this is what Johannesburg is like nowadays. I wait for a bus to take me along what once would have been a sort of Fifth Avenue, chatting with two locals, Joburg born and bred, who want to take me to Soweto and ask me very nicely to report on my blog that nobody is getting shot or mugged around me. I look over at a white man withdrawing money from an ATM, unmolested. I am a bit embarrassed that I left my mobile phone behind in Sandton, just in case. My bus stop companions think it’s hilarious. They want to talk about Spanish football. I want to talk about what it’s like to live here some more but the bus has stopped and I am off, email addresses scribbled on the back of a sandwich wrapper and handshakes and promises to tell people to come, come to Jozi, we’re nice here, tell people to come.
Braamfontein is a bit to the side of the CBD and I am told that it survived the worst horrors of the 1990s apocalyptic blight without too many scratches, which is remarkable considering that it’s barely three disoriented street turns away from Hillbrow, Johannesburg’s murder and crime ground zero. People, businesses, academia and the arts gritted their teeth and bore it, and are now being rewarded with phenomenal returns, sun-soaked urban life, Eurafrican hipsterdom, the creative capital of the land, wonderful food and the best coffee in town.
And then there is the rooftop sand beach that’s open only on Saturdays. Because what else are you going to do when you are the country’s largest city and it’s hot and you’re hopelessly landlocked? The entrance fee of R150 gets you a truckful of sand on a rooftop, lounge chairs, five free drinks, a DJ and the surreal experience of a waterless beach on top of a high-rise in the middle of Johannesburg. It’s at 68 Juta Street and it’s open from 2pm to 8pm and you must. You. Must.
Come to Jozi, they say, we’re nice here. I am so in love with Johannesburg, it’s going to get me in trouble.