Call me out of touch, but i never use Uber till i arrive in Johannesburg. Now i am Uber Queen! I meet drivers from Durban, Zimbabwe, Limpopo, Ethiopia but not from Johannesburg (Jozi). It seems that no one driving an Uber comes from this city of Gold in Gauteng. People come for a few years to make money, and go home to set up their own business. People have been coming to Jozi for hundreds of years to make money and try their luck since the Witwatersrand goldrush in 1886. Not that everyone was free to travel and own land or a business then. Now it is everyones big dream: business. Not an easy game in South Africa. Many people are struggling to survive. The cost of living is getting higher, and a vast majority of the population doesn’t have decent housing, water or electricity and have to travel miles to get to work if they are lucky enough to have it.
I’m staying in Sandton, one of the wealthiest residential and increasingly business areas in Johannesburg, and the area my parents used to live in in the 1980’s. I’m staying in a complex of small houses and apartments behind a double electric gate with a guard on duty 24/7. Inhabitants are a multiracial, Middle class bunch but it is only black people working at the gate and in the complex as gardeners, maintenance men and housekeepers. As I step out of the taxi from the Gautrain, I have to pinch myself. Has nothing changed?
I walk to The Shopping centre down the main road. I am the only white person walking. In Woolworths I can buy rolled oats and avocado’s and black seed, lemon sprinkled locally sourced bran muffins. The shopping crowd is mixed, well off, middle-class, black and white people dressed for the office or the gym. Even though the rand is low and i can travel far with my euros, i check the prices, careful what I buy. In the OK Bazaar in Alberton on the other side of the city, I can buy a whole meal for two and a bag of mixed nuts for 100 rand (£5,48/ 6,33€). The clientele are black families speaking isiZulu, seSotho and English all mixed together and one very fat white man in shorts, a checked shirt and a pick up truck.
Running the gauntlet and getting out from behind those damn security gates does you the world of good, as does getting back safely and breathing out. You book that Uber, watch the little car on your phone moving around, will he take the ride? (they have 60 seconds to decide), then you stand around looking out for the specific car, number plate and name of your driver. Hello, How are you? Sawubona, Unjani? You’ve been to the airport already 3 times today? Uber takes how much? 25%?! the petrol hike, the cost of roaming data, the taxi wars, who to vote for in the upcoming elections,…(“we chose our politicians by who shouts most loudly, you don’t have to be qualified”). And you’re off. Constant radio traffic flow rapports, service provision strikes shutting down roads, full minibus taxis swerving between lanes and stopping suddenly in front of you, people walking along the side of the highway and crossing in the middle of the road, street vendors at junctions, police sirens, not stopping at red lights at night due to hijacking risk and what a great city this is, and what a tiring city this is. One thing is for sure it is never ever boring. This constantly moving flow of traffic, people and money is the blood in the veins of the city of gold.