Insider's guide to... Johannesburg


What's the weather like now?

What's the weather like now?

Perfect. It's the end of winter, a season with zero rainfall, bright crisp days, sharp golden sunlight and the jacaranda trees with their mauve confetti of petals are about to start flowering.

What do the locals complain about?

Sky-high rates of crime and violence, which are frequently, and with no justification at all, blamed by all Jo'burgers (black and white) on the thousands of immigrants from the rest of Africa who are seeking their fortune in the "Golden City", giving rise to some hair-raising examples of vigilantism.

Who's the talk of the town?

The kwaito stars, whose tinny local brand of house music is striking a chord with black township teens. Their nihilistic message and violent lifestyle attract scores of column inches every week in the local press, especially the gossipy Sunday Times, which relishes their racy and bizarre lifestyles and features everyone from gunslinging musos who have been killed in shootouts to one who has opened a hair salon.

What's the cool drink?

It's no surprise that in this hyperactive city, caffeine makes the running, drunk either as espresso in coffee bars, or in the form of Red Bull. Energade, a disgusting local version of Lucozade, is heavily punted among the Health and Racquet Club set.

What are people eating?

Maize meal with sauce in the townships, while in northern suburban restaurants you can take your pick. Sushi joints with revolving help-yourself bars are very popular at the moment in the leafy suburbs of Norwood, Rosebank and Sandton.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?

The press greedily feeds on the Jerry Springer Show's exposure of messed- up private lives.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?

To Soweto or any of the other African townships. The city centre, once the financial hub of southern Africa, is also out of bounds and the hundreds of hotels and skyscrapers that are not standing empty are being occupied by squatters.

Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?

Melville, a gentrified former mineworkers' suburb that is now the place for media folk and arty types. Seventh and Main streets are lined with restaurants, coffee bars and nightclubs and jammed at night with cars. The Ratz Bar is the hip spot if you're under 30; the Bassline is one of the country's great jazz venues, and can make the unusual boast that it's actually popular with musicians. Regular performers include Courtney Pine (whenever he's in South Africa) and Abdullah Ibrahim (whenever they'll have him).

Where are the chic people doing their shopping?

London.

What's the trendy place to escape for the weekend? Sodwana Bay for scuba diving on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, preferably in a 4 x 4 vehicle so you can drive right on to the beach and don't have to walk the 50m from the car park.

* Tony Pinchuck is co-author of 'Rough Guide to South Africa'

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