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Updated Version of Nechama Brodie’s The Joburg Book: A New Edit For The City that Never Rests

#STBooks: Guest Column – Editing Joburg

By Nechama Brodie for the Sunday Times

The Joburg BookI’m still not exactly sure how I managed to convince anyone to let me edit a city.

But it was no accident that my odyssey, in writing the first edition of The Joburg Book, coincided with a wave of post-millennial optimism and middle-class nostalgia for an imagined, “authentic” urban place. Suburbs and shopping malls were boring. Town was cool.

So when The Joburg Book came out towards the end of 2008 it was a kind of urban love story. And also a cautionary tale: some time between when I finished writing the book and it was sent to print, xenophobic riots erupted across Johannesburg – a terrible irony in a city made entirely of immigrants. By the end of the year the property bubble had burst, a casualty of the global recession. A number of the flagship urban renewal projects stalled, then simply disappeared. But elsewhere a tipping point had been reached. Neighbourhoods started to emerge: in Maboneng, and New Braamfontein (I am going to call it that from now on). Much of this impetus was galvanised by the “Philip” fever of the Soccer World Cup. The Gautrain, over deadline and over budget but still a thing of marvel and wonder, allowed many of us to recalibrate our limited geographies (I’m still waiting to see if the Rea Vaya project will achieve the same).

Sure, this was a gentrified vision of Joburg, but it is also what I believe sustained a necessary buoyancy, of small-scale investment and Joburg pride, something municipalities and development strategies often fail to engender.

In the six years since my book’s first edition, Joburg has made incredible gains, but also experienced significant losses, like the destruction of the Top Star mine dump. The Mandela Yard Interpretation Centre in Alex remains inexplicably unfinished, while the Rissik Street Post Office is perhaps in an even worse state than before.

Six short years – and a new edit of a city that never rests is required. The new edition of The Joburg Book – which includes expanded texts on places like Constitution Hill and First Chinatown – is a marker of both the things that have changed, and those that have not. It is a reminder of why all of these spaces matter.

Joburg has a tendency to edit itself in a rather crude way, one that often overwrites or simply erases parts of our past. The remaining anchors of history that are dotted around the city are a sort of treasure map, of how we got to where we are and how we came to be who we are. The Joburg Book is a guide to this space. It says: you are here.

Follow Nechama on Twitter @brodiegal

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