Posted by: Richard Marshall | August 14, 2009

Last weeks in Joburg

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Zim writing this post in word because my computer seems unable to connect to wireless connections…hmmm. Anyway, one last post about my time in Joburg before Zim erases any memory of what it is like to live in a semi-normal country…

I spent my last week in Joburg with Steve and Nix in Sunninghill, and so had an opportunity to visit some of the great monuments to kitsch which seem to dot northern Johannesburg. Sunninghill is technically in Sandton, so I had the chance to take a closer look at that glossy city. Sandton boasts what must be one of the most ironic monuments I have seen, the statue of Mandela in Nelson Mandela square. I found the square unnerving on a number of levels. Firstly, the tremendous wealth of Sandton makes it perhaps the ultimate symbol of South Africa’s social inequality. Also, although the square is outdoors and sort-of mimics a public space, the rich are protected there from the poor by a positive maze of parking lots, expensive shops and, of course, and army of security. I’m not sure any of this really accords with the ‘vision’ of poor old Nelson. But even aside from this, the statue is bloody ugly.

The second, even more stunning monument to kitsch is SA’s very own slice of Tuscany, Monte Casino. It is primarily indeed a casino, and so natural light is discouraged. As a result, one walks through most of the place under an eerie fake sky, which vaguely mimics different times of day (though not, presumably, the sallow dawns the casino goers encounter outside…). Absolutely everything is fake – the trees and flowers, the plastic birds on the window sills, the empty facades on the piazzi. Even the drinking fountain seemed to be fake (in fact, I think it was merely broken, but the idea of civic amenity as accessory seemed so wonderfully apt I can’t quite resist it!).

Anyway, it was all quite amazing. And I had a really good time during the last few weeks. I spent a weekend at Craig’s family’s golf estate (homage was payed to the god of kitsch there too…), went out with Steve and Nix and had a raucous evening after the rugby with four old Smuts guys (and poor old Nix….). And I even managed to get a job, so I wasn’t only messing around.

Having been so rude about Joburg’s temples of commerce, I think I need to offer a few favourable remarks about her parks. Craig took me to the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, which I though was really lovely, especially the fountains and rose gardens. I also went to Zoo Lake, which is a fun and genuinely public space, in contrast to the yuppy cocoon of NM square. From Gregor’s flat I could run through both gardens, which was very pleasant route. Farther afield, Steve and Nix took me to the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, which are really beautiful, and have the added attraction of a pair of Black Eagles…

I haven’t been good at taking my camera, so these pictures are downloaded, but at least give an idea of the places I’m talking about…

Nelson Mandela Square

Nelson Mandela Square







Monte Casino

Monte Casino


  1. Are you going to write about uganda too? Good reading here marshall. Getting better too, maybe you should write a book!
    I looked up ho chi min…It is going to be so exciting! i get tingles for you. And next month is damn soon!!! Don’t forget about us!
    Love and kisses T
    ps did you ever get your post card?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: