Johannesburg Stories

Jovial Rantao hopes a little sustainable development trickles down to Jo'burg from the Earth summit to be hosted north of the city

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, known to everyone here simply as the WSSD, starts in Johannesburg in eight days. Except it isn't actually taking place in Johannesburg.

When Tony Blair, Jiang Zemin and the rest arrive for the formal part of the summit, they will be based in up-market Sandton, north of the city, and will meet in the huge convention centre there. Once Sandton was just a suburb for the rich. Now it is a separate municipality that has sucked the smart shops and many of the businesses and jobs out of the heart of Jo'burg.

There is poverty a stone's throw away in Alexandra township, and plenty more in Soweto, Thembisa and Katlehong, if delegates want to look for it. The government representatives might not have the time or the inclination, but if you don't believe the saying that an African will easily give up his or her bed to a visitor, try the real Johannesburg: with more than 40,000 people attending what some say is the biggest summit the world has seen, accommodation will have to be found all over the city, including the parts in need of some sustainable development.

There are some who believe the summit will solve all of Jo'burg's problems – "Boon time for Jo'burg", screamed one newspaper poster. Ordinary citizens who might not have been up to speed with what the WSSD is, and what it is meant to achieve, are unable to distinguish between the political agenda of the summit and the logistics that have gone into preparing for such a major event.

Roads have been dug up and resurfaced, maintenance work has been going on for months and many new facilities have been built. There will be a rush of foreign currency and short-term jobs. Many people I know have spruced up their houses and cottages and look forward to making a fast buck by hosting summit visitors.

The formal hospitality sector is smiling. The transport industry is looking forward to its best two weeks ever. And so too are our alternative businessmen – the criminals who have given Jo'burg its often exaggerated reputation.

The website for delegates shows an awareness of this reputation. Extra police are being drafted in, it says, as well as soldiers to protect certain summit venues. "South Africa will be as safe as any other place in the world where a summit could be held," it assures, before going on to other safety issues, such as warning visitors from the northern hemisphere, "notably the European countries", to use sun cream.

One news agency thought it would be helpful to explain some of the local lingo to summit-goers. If a Jo'burger tells you to turn left at a robot, for example, he doesn't mean something out of Star Wars, he means a traffic light. It listed many other useful words, such as bakkie (a pickup truck) and braai (a barbecue), although one was missing: tsotsi, as criminals are called here.

But if the tsotsis are rubbing their hands, the police are promising they won't be able to do anything else during the summit. And that would indeed be a boon.

A burly Afrikaner made a name for himself during a Tri-nations rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand a few days ago. Pieter van Zyl broke through the security and tackled the Irish referee, Dave McHugh, who had to go off with a dislocated shoulder.

One section of the nation, mainly white and Afrikaner Springbok supporters who believe they have been cheated by the referees in this Tri-nations series, saw Van Zyl as a hero. Another section, mainly black, saw his action as pure thuggery. Amazing how much a small incident on a rugby field can tell about a nation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Financial Director / FD / Senior Finance Manager

Up to 70k DOE: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Financial Director ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company has been manufacturing high quali...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is the fairest onl...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Production Planner is require...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen