Welcome back to Johannesburg. The city’s summer hibernation is over; all the schools have reopened and everyone is slotting back into routine. Johannesburg does the Summer and Xmas break in reverse. The suburbs empty out and those staying home for Xmas count the days until the the 15th and 16th of December when the mass exodus really kicks in. The coastal towns and villages brim over while Johannesburg slumbers through the stormy and sultry summer days. Restaurants empty out and some even close their doors for the season while down at the coast they move on to multiple-seatings per night and bookings have to be made days and weeks in advance. Cars, with windows rolled right down, meander through quiet, tree-lined Johannesburg streets; even the beggars, brilliant beaders and almost-anything-you-can-think-of traders have abandoned their traffic-light posts and gone on holiday. The city exhales and rests.
Last week and this past weekend, with bicycles and canoes strapped to muddy bumpers and roof racks, the 4WD’s streamed steadily back. Caramel passengers with sun-tousled hair advertised their long beach breaks and reluctantly at first, but then with customary vigour, Johannesburg changed gear and revved up.
The traffic is gridlocked. It’s a new year with old problems. The potholes are still there; bigger than ever following the summer storms and only half the traffic lights have come back to work. Major intersections require a certain amount of guesswork but it’s becoming second nature and the 4-Way-Stop system slips easily back into place. Night driving is interesting: The street lights on our section of Jan Smuts Avenue have been on leave for a year. We are faced with a tree covered tunnel of darkness and have our headlights on bright. We play Spot-and-Dodge-the-Pothole. No advanced driving obstacle courses needed here.
The northern suburb gardeners have been steadily taking up their posts. Suddenly overgrown pavements are sporting cropped, back-to-school cuts, driveways emerge, leaf-free, and thousands of agapanthus nod their blue and white welcome. The call of the Piet-My-Vrou falters as the summer migrants start to take their leave. The Old Order is restored and the homes and gardens breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The coast is great, the bush, unbeatable, Cape Town wins the city beauty contests but Johannesburg harbours a secret known only to its inhabitants: It has an irrepressible energy that ambushes newcomers and seduces even the most reluctant of residents. The roads may be rugged, the taxis treacherous, the crime rate high and the lights largely off, but everyone’s home and happy to be back.