It's 2am and I'm laying in bed. Outside the rain beats against the window. Then a flash of lightning quickly followed by roaring thunder. The lightning storms in Jo'burg are a magnificent sight, they are intense and are usually over in about an hour or two; then it's back to glorious sunshine. The storm sums up the hostile nature of Jo'burg, everything is out to grind you down, even the weather. But the power behind Jo'burg, the lightning within the storm, is the people.
The city is young, just over 120 years old and was fuelled by the gold rush. The hunt for riches left behind it a rapidly developed city and a mindset that lives on to this day. People in Jo'burg don't fuck around. It seems as though everyone is here to make it big. Earlier in the day I saw a woman come out of a hair salon with curlers still in her hair as she marches over to the shops to finish her errands whilst texting on her phone. People are on a mission here, and that drive is what keeps Jo'burg running.
That drive has also led to the ugly side of Johannesburg, the crime. Houses have tall walls and electric fences, there are hijackings, home invasions and murders. Everyone in Jo'burg has been a victim of crime at some point. My friend tells me of the time her colleague was at home with her husband when a group of people broke into the house, tied them up and beat them before taking everything in the house. She herself was a victim of a smash and grab last week when stopping at a set of traffic lights. But despite all this, people here brush it off and get on with their lives. For them, it's just like the lightning storm, another harsh element for them to deal with. To focus on the crime is do a huge disservice to the resilience and ingenuity of the city's residents.
The crime has lead to the city developing in a unique way. The city centre is run down, big businesses pulled out and created their own district in Sandton. There's not many cities where the middle is a no go area at night. But Sandton is sterile, it's boring glass and metal buildings only serve to house big corporations and not to inspire the residents. But that doesn't mean that the city centre is a ghost town, on the contrary, it's full of life.
Johannesburg's city centre feels post apocalyptic, but not in a bad way. There are gigantic buildings left abandoned and crumbling. There's a certain eroded beauty and majesty to them. Yet, people have found ways to breathe life back into these structures, filling them with markets, small businesses and edgy clubs.
The rawness of Johannesburg is what makes it one of the most exciting places to be in Africa, long may it stay that way.