Johannesburg has the necessary attributes to emerge as a distinguished city on the global stage, with the capacity to garner acclaim for its burgeoning jazz scene, thriving arts and culture, and dynamic political landscape. However, the city is in a terrible situation and is dying right in front of our eyes.

By Themba Khumalo

I have been indulging in the auditory bliss that is Johannesburg, a true gem of a tune brought to life by the musical virtuosos Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson. This sonic masterpiece serves as the opening anthem of their collaborative album, From South Africa to South Carolina, which graced the airwaves back in November 1975.

The duo inquires in their lyrical masterpiece:

What’s the word?

Tell me woman, have you heard

From Johannesburg?

Somebody said what’s the word?

Tell me brother, have you heard

From Johannesburg?

In the song, there is a musical climax where Scott-Heron and the band members engage in a call and response, with the repeated phrase “What’s the word?- Johannesburg” serving as the highlight.

This catapulted me into a realm where I was compelled to gaze and absorb the symphony of my hometown, the ravaged yet resplendent Johannesburg.

Joburg is a place where contrasts collide and coexist in a mesmerising way!

It is a place of shimmering gold, dazzling lights, and prickly barbed wire. The sweet sound of jazz fills the air, while the sun sets into a fiery lava-like horizon.

This city boasts a top-notch university but also has its fair share of men with knives and guns. You can find everything from fancy shopping malls to the sudden burst of vibrant small to medium-sized birds soaring above the city’s man-made forests.

As the icy grip of winter takes hold, the wispy tendrils of smoke emanating from the humble braziers suspended in the shantytowns hover low, providing a warm and comforting glow amidst the frigid air.

For those who are even less fortunate, surviving the winter months means huddling in makeshift shacks, burning plastic to keep warm, and facing the constant threat of eviction. Even the affluent suburbs are not immune to the city’s woes, with frequent power and water outages leaving residents in the dark and parched. To add insult to injury, the police force has become synonymous with armed thugs, leaving citizens feeling helpless and vulnerable.

Joburg is a symphony of sounds, a cacophony of music, wails, gunshots, screeching tyres, and roaring engines. It is a city that never sleeps, where violence seems to accumulate like dust on a shelf. Shacks huddle together against the backdrop of toxic mine dumps, while in the lush suburbs, life is somewhat convivial and full of energy.

This is a city of diversity and modernity, born from the tumultuous and savage era of colonial mining. It stands out as a metropolis unlike any other, for it does not rest beside a river or harbour, but rather atop the most abundant gold deposits on the globe. Despite over a century of feverish excavation, the city still boasts a wealth of gold, though much of it now lies too deep within the earth to be extracted.

The era of mining may have come to a close, but the resilient communities remain steadfast, and their populations and poverty are on the rise. Regrettably, politicians seem to be unfazed by this predicament, opting instead, to exploit the common folk as a means to amass riches.

Our city’s political arena is infested with a swarm of thieving pests, relentlessly gnawing away at its foundations and dragging it down to the fiery depths of damnation. The unquenchable desire for power and financial gain among political leaders and their technocrats has resulted in the suffering of common citizens, who are now experiencing extreme hardship. The ongoing surge in corruption has led to the decline of what is supposed to be a world-class African city.

The era of boundless optimism that blossomed after 1994 has regrettably reached a definitive conclusion. The deterioration that was once confined to small towns and provincial cities has now infiltrated the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg.

Once a bustling hub of locomotion, it has now become a shadow of its former self. The once-thriving train tracks and stations have been left to decay and are eventually dismantled for scrap. The streets are in a state of disrepair, with cracked pavements, exposed drains, and pothole-ridden roads. The stench of decaying garbage permeates some neighbourhoods, a stark reminder of the poverty that plagues the city.

In certain pockets of the metropolis, greedy developers have been granted carte blanche to deface the already fragile and restricted environment with the edifices of corporate tyranny. Meanwhile, in other areas, plastic bags dance in the wind, ensnared by barbed wire. The bourgeoisie have barricaded themselves within their fortified abodes or gated communities, with some plotting their escape or striving to secure their offspring’s departure.

This dire situation we find ourselves in was not inevitable, nor is it irreversible. The truth is, there is no logical explanation for the prolonged neglect of our city and its inhabitants – it was a deliberate decision. The ANC, EFF, DA, and a plethora of minor political parties are all complicit in transforming municipal administration into a tool for the privileged few to amass wealth, rather than working hand in hand with the community to achieve greater good.

I am telling you, without a shadow of a doubt, that there is a wealth of resources and know-how here to build a bustling metropolis brimming with jazz joints, top-notch schools, art galleries, reliable public transport, and plenty of safe public spaces.

Joburg has the potential to be a beacon of greatness among African cities and a shining example of the so-called third world. It could be a haven for professionals from all corners of the globe, offering them a safe and welcoming home.

Imagine a Joburg where women can walk the streets without fear, where the hustle and bustle of malls is replaced by the charm of lively streets. The rivers glistening in the sun are pure and pristine, inviting visitors to take a dip.

Jozi, Emjibha, Emshishi, Egoli, Jwanasbeg, should be a city that beckons people from all corners of the globe with its vibrant music scene and electrifying nightlife. Picture yourself sipping on a cold beer, basking in the warm sun on a bustling street. A city where people can rest easy knowing that if they fall ill, they will receive top-notch care at a hospital. This is the Johannesburg we should strive for.

Picture a Joburg that embraces diversity and warmly welcomes migrants with open arms. Imagine strolling down tree-lined streets, passing by well-built housing, public parks, and sports fields. The city’s libraries are bustling with knowledge seekers, and the profits from its thriving commerce are channelled back into society through fair taxation, rather than lining the pockets of a corrupt political elite. This is the vision for a Johannesburg that truly puts its people first.

To secure a prosperous future, we must harness the power of our collective creativity and work together to generate wealth. It is crucial to prioritise investments in both the people and the essential infrastructure that supports their shared existence.

I will say it many times; the only way to improve the current crisis in Joburg and steer it to glory is through the collective effort of citizens and communities who have been hit the hardest. It is crucial to find urgent solutions for the city’s inhabitants and future generations, or else the situation will deteriorate further.

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