The Newtown I Love

This past week I spent some quality time in Newtown, Jozi’s cultural hub and I was fascinated by how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Millions of rands have been pumped into this section of town as part of Joburg’s Urban Renewal Programme driven by the Johannesburg Development Agency and Blue IQ. Nice, comfy flats have been built to bring people back into the city centre. They are not throwing the net wide though as these are middle income housing that should guarantee a community with buying power in the centre of Jozi, not vagrants, who are still here though.

Newtown has seen worse days and it looks like everything from now can only be plain sailing. There was once a time that you wouldn’t want to be caught alone in the Market Theatre Precinct regardless of the presence of now closed Kippies and the hive of activities happening there. Visitors were being robbed handbags and cellphones in broad daylight as there was zero police presence or any giving of fuck from the patrons. I have been through all these different stages and I can write with authority about Newtown, hoping the remedy for its ills can also work in Hillbrow.

The conversion of the huge parking space infront of Museum Africa into Mary Fitzgerald Square and establishment of recreation facilities have given this hub a facelift and a new appeal to young people. Newtown is proof that when government wants to do something positive it can, regardless of financial challenges. It is proof that government has every intention not to deliver basic services to the poor so to keep them poor forever and dependent on government and then make them voting fodder. It is proof that the bureaucracy does not have the best intentions about the electorate and citizenry.

The three full days I spent in Newtown shooting thousands of pictures as part of my photojournalism course exposed me to the old tired clichés. The same disgruntled artists who catch a bus in the morning from the townships or Yeoville to come and ‘just’ hang at Newtown are still here, more of them. They are still grumbling about lack of arts funding and cradling manuscripts with more issues that the addition of a ‘t’ will not be enough to make them ‘t-issues’.

They are still wearing their over three years old dreadlocks and carrying their sling or backpacks full of dub CDs of Mutabaruka and LKJ, books by Steve Biko and Chika Onyeani, and bootleg DVDs from South America, Palestine, Iran and the Caribbean. They are still smoking the herb, (upgraded from Swazi to Purple Haze) drinking coffee and to a larger extent bonking the sisteresses without dickshields ‘because they are part of the white man’s conspiracy to keep Afrikan populations as low as possible’.

They are still dying in huge numbers and giving birth to poisoned offspring. Tupac Shakur rapped, ‘no matter what you do niggas never die/ we just retaliate with hate and we multiply’. The artists are dying but the non-artists, who think monogamy is cool and use condoms when they cheat are multiplying, so the artists are not multiplying but the non-artists. This wraps up the story of Newtown and its recklessness.

While there I saw familiar faces, poet academic Kgafela oa Magogodi hanging all by himself along Bree, facing Kippies, poet-author Lesego Rampolokeng and friends shooting the breeze, Zoza Shongwe stressing about how he quit the arts to go into IT inventing etc, I only mention those I engaged with in conversation because I can’t write about any other artist I saw there. This is a hive and they are bees.

But I can safely say over three days I saw all there is to see in Newtown. The place is relatively clean now, murals of artists from years gone by decorate the landscape, Brenda Fassie is still frozen in history there, Sophiatown is still the place to be after Cappelos. I even saw the minister of arts and culture Dr Pallo Jordan and his entourage enjoying a bite there. I then hooked up with his spokesperson Sandile Memela who was chilling with Mpho Molepo for a quick chat.

The day before poet and ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shibambu was there enjoying a drink with friends. This was the Jozi renewal that its architects dreamt of, whereby we sip coffee at Kaldis (they only take cash), buy books at Xarra, have a bite at either Sophiatown or Cappelos, exchange foreign currency at Rennies, catch a taxi at Jeppe or Bree, watch the sun go down over the highway and shoot the breeze while shooting ball at Mary Fitzgerald.

This is a Newtown I still have to write beautiful poetry for. This is the Newtown I love.

1 comment:

  1. I'm embarassed to say this but(gulp), I haven't been to Newtown, i've walked passed it but I haven't enjoyed a day there. i should be ashamed of myself


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