On the mid 90’s I was doing voluntary work with sex workers in Hillbrow and we spent a lot of time visiting people in a hijacked building named the Mimosa Hotel. A drug cartel simply handed the owner a suitcase of cash and showed him the door. A few weeks later the maintenance man found a store-room full of their wares and it got him beaten and thrown out of a third-storey window. Luckily he survived: when we visited him in hospital he was recovering from several bad fractures, but he could still walk.
Negotiating broken lifts and dangerous terrain in the building was stressful and weird, but now and then we’d come across a beautifully-kept flatlet with a young family in it – my earnest hope was that someday the Jo’burg administration would step in to make it a safe inner-city habitation.
There’s a deeper personal level to this memory for me: fifty years ago, on a Jozi summer evening, a young man and his two friends were walking past the fashionable Mimosa Hotel when he saw a lovely woman waiting for friends on the steps. She was holding an unlit cigarette and he felt compelled to turn back and offer her a light. That’s how my father and mother met.
We’re all woven into the fabric of SA – pull any of us out and something unravels.