About ten years ago I was doing voluntary work with young sex workers in Hillbrow and we had to spend a lot of time visiting people in a hijacked building named the Mimosa Hotel. A drug cartel had basically handed the owner a suitcase of cash and shown him the door. When the maintenance man found a store-room full of their wares a few weeks later, it got him thrown out of a third-storey window. Luckily he survived – when we visited him in hospital he had several bad fractures, but would still be able to walk.
It was stressful and weird, but every now and then we’d come across a beautifully-kept flatlet with a young family in it – my earnest hope was that the city would step in someday to make it a safe inner-city habitation.
There is a deeper personal level to this memory for me: fifty years ago a young man and his two friends walked by the Mimosa Hotel one summer evening when he spied a lovely woman waiting for friends on the front steps. She took out a cigarette, he turned back to offer her a light (with a flourish), and that is how my father and mother met.
We are all woven into the fabric of SA – pull any of us out and something unravels.