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My World-Class African Suburb?

Is Orange Grove a ‘world class’ African suburb? It most certainly is buzzing with life. While it is a cosmopolitan suburb, attracting a growing number of people, it is steadily deteriorating. Can this trend be reversed?


What is a world-class city?

Essentially all the world class cities are in the northern hemisphere. They include places like London, New York, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo. They are financial hubs where transnationals feel very much at home. Places where the rich drink hard, play hard and have access to the finest foods, theatres, museums, galleries, parks, golf courses, fast and efficient transport… bars and prostitutes. All this the fuel they require to work like maniacs to conquer the ‘market’. For them there is only one market, the global market. And they want to gobble as much of it as they possibly can.

World-class cities are also places where the rich have access to world-class education and health care within secure neighbourhoods; this is the part I find most attractive. That it comes with ostentatious wealth from which global resources can be amassed and controlled is merely a challenge. Providing opportunities to channel wealth into more humane and sustainable directions I have learnt to regard it. For I am tired of the filth. I am tired of complacency. I am tired of the old and the new politics and business models. I think I might be voraciously greedy and want the best of all worlds… And I am doing my best to eat from all cakes?


Where is Orange Grove on this African world-class map?

While I envision Orange Grove as a secure and caring suburb, we are in fact a buffer zone – on the wrong side of the M1. Running parallel to a still decaying Louis Botha Avenue suggests that we’d better reinvent ourselves. Falling between the sophisticated Sandton and Rosebank and the poverty of Alexandra we feel the pressure of new socio-economic dynamics. That is, those of us who have bourgeoise tendencies. We want to increase our security and prevent a drop in property and rental values. Or at the very least, we want to protect or create pockets of genteel-living somehow. At least I do.

Yet, those of us whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus lockdowns feel the pressure even more: the fear of being resourceless; the fear of becoming dependent and a burden on others; the fear of becoming homeless. The already homeless are the worst off. Their numbers have risen. They look thinner than they did before. The harmless mentally ill, and the non-functional drug addicts and alcoholics suddenly stand out. Unmasked, the marginalized and self-marginalized have become symbols of the crisis our suburb faces… With fewer and fewer public spaces within which to hide, they require special and urgent support.

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What is a world-class African city?

A world-class African City is a city that is the financial hub of Africa – the gateway to the wealth of the rest of the continent.

When originally formulated perhaps it was meant to be the New York of Africa. Or perhaps Dubai. (Actually, Dubai is in Africa, isn’t it? Just checked – it is part of Asia. Imagine that!) Under Ramaphosa and Malema it may have morphed into the desire to make it the Beijing of Africa. And a stepping stone for Xi Jinping to leap ahead in the race for Africa’s mineral and natural wealth? (And another place to put his cheap and hard-working labour force to work? In exchange for large infrastructure projects, making it a potentially fair exchange?)

Yet now that Amazon is said to be in a duet with Eskom, who knows? Perhaps the ANC and EFF like China’s version of communist-capitalism and the Motsepe extended family likes Amazon’s version of capitalism-capitalism. Will the family get shares in Amazon’s solar energy production plant? Regardless, in terms of being part of the global economy it makes sense to host some of the new players. Yet only if the exchange serves our nation, with at least a 50% win for the South African economy?

An article from Urbanage, although written in 2006, captures a vision of a prosperous, post-apartheid Johannesburg very well. It reminded me that the problem is the solution. Used creatively, it has the potential to channel our crudeness and competitiveness into pride. And into innovation applied. I particularly like the city’s own phraseology: ‘a world class city with service deliverables and efficiencies that meet world best practice’.


By being what we uniquely are, we contribute what only we can give. (Jonathan Sacks)

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