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Sandton

Sights, sounds and shopping

By MUSA JIBRIL

From the ceiling-to-floor window of my Radisson Blu hotel room, a scenic view of a suburb spread a hundred feet below me. A colourful overview. Jacaranda trees formed clusters of purple dots among the splashes of greenery interconnected across a well-planned layout of beautiful houses.

At ground level, the street crawled with cars. Cars, cars, cars everywhere. The New. The vintage. The exotic. On Rivonia Street, I ran into an Aston Martin, the original James Bond car. Whoever owned the auto had an oversized ego. His number plate read 007. He even drove speedily down the street like Rivonia Street was a set for a new spy movie.

That is one of my evergreen sights of Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa’s throbbing capital city. Those sights were as deeply etched on the canvas of my mind as to be unforgettable.

In the past few months of the last two years, South Africa resonates with ugly tales of xenophobia, gory killings of other nationals, and barbaric homicide that mottled the country’s famed fairytale splendour.

Sounds of Sandton still echo in my mind. Like the voice of Snowy Matterra, our guide, whose rhapsody about her South African mixed heritage was hard to ignore. Born one-quarter Italian, she painstakingly explained that certain features hardly change in the South African woman, no matter the mixed matrices of her parentage. “We have got the cheekbones, and Xhosa women, especially, have got the behind.”

I remember what she said of South Africa being “the whole world in one place.”

I remember Sandton for great conversations. There, I met the future of Africa: 35 young Africans of seven nationalities, seven Anglophone countries. We found common denominators in music, the popular culture. On the first day, I made friends with Botswanan Issy, Kago and Fish, great guys, and Emang Bokhutlo, editor of The Voice, Botswana’s largest daily, and Lame Malefho, a writer with Gazette, journalists from Gaborone who brought intellectual sparks to every discussion and debate.

The next day, I was fraternising with the Zambians. Reagan Musewa, Kabaza Phiri and Max Chifuti. They had a good sense of humour, the Zambians.  There were Ghanaians, charming but placid, Kenyans, very inquisitive and taciturn Tanzanians and rollicking Zimbabweans. Six South African and six Nigerians. It was an extraordinary fellowship, as diverse as the cast of Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings.

Other nationals, yearning to hear about Nigeria, bombarded the Nigerian contingent with questions. Questions about the Super Eagles, about Nollywood, about super evangelists. Kenyans and Zambians were excited by comedians Mr Ibu and Osuofia. Botswanans knew more about Nigerian Pastor T.B. Joshua. The Kenyans dug at the odd Naija stories. We talked about many things. We laughed over our common woes, Africa’s dearth of quality leadership and her economic shambles. Then, out of the blues, someone––can’t remember who––came up with a wild thought that belonged on the pages of Orwell’s 1984: A prosperous future where there is a luxury trans-Africa train that runs from the Sahara to Sandton. “It will be a good idea to just pack your bag, hop on the train and spend the next 12 days on a train across Africa,” said Lame Malefho.   

Sandton’s other name is shopping. The city’s pulsating shopping centre is one of the largest in Africa. Jewellery, clothes, footwear, wines, restaurants, books, curious, furniture––everything that appeals to the material man.  You have to make up your mind on what to buy before you wander through the corridors of the malls otherwise you could spend a lifetime window-shopping, lost in the labyrinth of vast, interconnected nests of needful things and valourised vanities. It seemed all the luxury shops in the world were crammed into the Sandton City Shopping Centre.

At the front of the Nelson Mandela Square at Sandton Shopping Centre, was the six-metre statue of Mandela.  In the square, a crystal-clear pool continuously invited white doves to dance on its surface.

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