OUT TO LUNCH
I’ve lived the majority of my South African life in Johannesburg. Always in the leafy northern suburbs and within easy reach of those temples of Mammon, Sandton City and Rosebank. Between 1992 and 2013 I lived very happily on a panhandle property on 7th Avenue in Parktown North (described as “slightly shabby” by the late Gwen Gill).
When we moved into the house the road was residential and fairly quiet but within a few years the front properties next to the road became business premises as 7th Avenue became busier and noisier. Two doors away from us was one of the original Parktown North houses dating from when the township was proclaimed in 1904.
While not actually being a listed building it had features that qualified it as a heritage site. So when a new owner bought the house from the architects who were using it as an office, smashed out the windows and turned it into a restaurant we knew that Parktown North’s days as a quiet, suburb with a village atmosphere were numbered.
When the older suburbs like Parktown North, Rosebank, Parkwood and Saxonwold were discovered to have no precious metals beneath them and were proclaimed as “townships” for urban development the deal came with the gift of trees. In the case of Parktown North 20000 trees were apparently donated by the developer which is why the suburb is now known for its mature plane trees.
On many mornings I walked purely for pleasure from my home to Zoo Lake and back and it was possible to walk the entire distance under a canopy of trees. Then, very gradually, decay started creeping in. Instead of being collected and removed, rubbish would be swept into storm drains with the result that the roads would flood during the summer rains and potholes would appear. Those potholes were rarely fixed and so more potholes would appear.
Then pavements would start to disintegrate as lorries used some of the roads as a “rat run” and had to mount pavements to get through. Eventually the morning walk to Zoo Lake became more of an obstacle course. At the same time, years of neglect by the ANC who controlled Johannesburg resulted in road markings disappearing, lampposts full of tatty rain sodden posters, piles of uncollected rubbish accumulating by the roadside and a sort of free for all for anybody who felt like altering their property or, worse, demolishing it and building six town houses on the same plot.
Building permission was treated as a complete joke because the chances of getting anything approved without a kickback were slim. So conventional wisdom suggested you just build and, if there’s ever a problem, pay the bribe to get retrospective planning permission.
In 2012 I was invited to give a speech at the Vineyard hotel in Cape Town. I decided to extend my visit and spent a few days with friends in Somerset West. During that time I drove around the winelands near Stellenbosch and the same thought kept going through my mind….why on earth am I living in Johannesburg when I could be living down here?
While I was down on my extended visit I had a lone lunch at a very good Italian restaurant in the Waterstone Shopping Centre in Somerset West. A couple at an adjoining table kept staring at me and eventually the husband came over and asked if I was, in fact, the legendary writer of the much missed Out to Lunch column. I replied that I was and we joined tables for dessert and a couple of ports during which I asked him what the advantages of living in Somerset West were. He was a former partner of a major auditing firm and also a semigrant from Johannesburg.
“My dear boy. It’s a different world. Same currency though”.
He was absolutely right. We sold the house (after four months) in Joburg and moved here in October of 2013. Since we have been here the place has developed exponentially. The road that leads to our complex now has four more sets of robots and is considerably busier. The property next to us which stood vacant for years now has a development of 3200 units being built on it and next to that a brand new shopping centre is being developed, to be finished by November.
I’m told I live in a bubble of privilege but it is a bubble of privilege that I am happy to pay for. When November floods destroyed some of the roads in 2013 the potholes were patched within two days and completely repaired within a week at most. My insurer phoned me recently to offer special pothole insurance for my car and I replied that I hadn’t seen a serious pothole since I left Johannesburg.
The lines on the road get repainted, the verges get mowed, the pavements get weeded, the litter gets collected and on the odd occasion I am stopped in a police roadblock the officers couldn’t be more courteous; a sharp contrast to the threatening “I’m looking for a bribe” tone I frequently experienced in Johanesburg. The point is that the Western Cape works well under the DA and it never did under the ANC.
To suggest that the DA should be punished at the polls for their internal political fights is utter madness. They have proven beyond doubt that they can run a province far better than any other party and certainly much better than the venal ANC. Unemployment in the Western Cape is the lowest in the country (but still too high) and last year the Auditor General gave the Western Cape a 83% clean audit against Gauteng’s lamentable 52%. To vote the DA out of power would be an act of folly and if you don’t believe me, fly to Johannesburg and look at the result of 22 years of ANC sponsored decay that Herman Mashaba is trying to sort out.
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