After spending 20 of my 24 years on earth here, the only words that I believe would be adequate enough to describe growing up in Jouberton are interesting and eventful. To others, words such as dangerous and scary would be more befitting, but because I’m of the doctrine that one should always see the positive in everything, I prefer using the former phrases than the later to express my beliefs about this ever growing township.
Even though during my childhood days I was more of an introvert and always kept to myself, the one wonderful thing about growing up here was that whenever I decided to leave the warm nest of the Rossouw family’s home and be amongst other delinquents I called my friends, we never ran out of activities to do. If we weren’t climbing trees – racing to see who would touch the phone cables that ran over the RDP houses we lived in first, we were playing hide and seek, DONKEY, Skop die bal, skip-in or running around with long sticks challenging the boys from the next street to a street fight (which was my least favorite game). It’s very rare for one to find a young person who grew up in Jouberton during the late 90’s and early 2000’s saying their childhood days were boring because of the plethora of activities and games we played.
Because we grew up having such “good times”, the one thing that we were never cognizant of as young people was the high level of violence around us. We grew up knowing that people from the “down” section were not allowed to walk at night in the “top” section – and vice versa – but we never understood why – and didn’t bother to ask. We were so used to this high level of violence, and forcefully imposed-and-Apartheid-like movement restrictions, that they became a normal part of our lives. Fights between the boys from the different sections would break over many things but one of the most common causes of these fights was girls – guys used to fight over girls all the time and there were rules about who should date who and why. And the other cause, which actually caused more deaths than the rest, was being in the wrong section of the township at the wrong time. Going to school was the worst for people who had to cross between these makeshift borders that the different gang leaders had created in the community and I was fortunate enough to not have been one of them.
Because of this violent nature that presided over our lives during those days, it was very useful for one to be a good fighter. The fights that broke out were so violent that it was common to see people being stabbed in broad daylight, and one or more people dying because of them. Nevertheless, my introvert nature and skinny frame put me at the bottom of the food chain. I cannot remember the exact number of fights I had during my childhood days but I’m certain you won’t need more than one hand to count them, and as for the number of fights I’ve won, you would need even less fingers to count those.
Notwithstanding, there are positive sides to growing up in the midst of so much violence. One such side is the fact that fear is an emotion that we only recently acquired – with the sudden increase of violence in the township after years of some level of peace – and the other is that most of the community members can pick up when danger is around the corner; because we have seen it in all its forms.
When my family first moved here in the mid-90’s, the township had a little under 15 extensions but today it hosts 24 extensions with word on the street suggesting that with the latest increase of informal settlements (or “baipei” as we call them) on the edges of the township (one such being conveniently called skierlik (which is an Afrikaans words meaning ‘all of a sudden’)) there are two more on the way. The last time I counted Jouberton had 8 high schools and an equal number of primary schools, one library, one police station, an ever increasing number of churches, 5 clinics and one hospital (and these are just the ones I know).
Because we grew up during the early years of our country’s democracy – a time when people were celebrating having defeated the beast that was Apartheid – we never needed a reason to party and alcohol and being drunk, or seeing people who were drunk, became another normal part of our lives. Instead of decreasing in the same way that the value of the rand against the dollar has in the past couple of weeks, the level of alcohol consumption in Jouberton has continually increased, and still continues to increase. We still don’t need a reason to celebrate and every weekend we fill up the different and ever increasing taverns, pubs and other watering holes to dance the night away and drink more alcohol than our systems can take (and yes I said WE).
With all that being said, I think it would be very unfair of me to paint Jouberton as another forgotten and forever deteriorating former bantu location for the migrant mine workers of the nearby mining town, because it is definitely more than just that. It is a melting pot of different cultures where in every corner you are more likely to meet a person from a different culture than you are of getting mugged at gun or knife point. The high level of partying that has recently taken over the lives of the young people has made them more acquainted with each other and therefore more civil (with each other that is!). To some extent we still respect our elders and try as hard as we can to teach those younger than us to do the same.
I know that at face value Jouberton, with its ever increasing population and ever increasing “delinquency” from its youth, looks like a volcano waiting to erupt, but we need to see it beyond the popularist botox infused view that we see many, if not all, of the former bantu locations in the country. Jouberton, like many of the locations in the country, is not perfect – far from it – but show me a place that is. It might not be a good example of “a nice place to grow up” but through the cracks of its poverty stricken pavements many roses have sprouted. It has produced the likes of Dino Ndlovu, Sanele Makinane, Sir Stuart Ntlathi, Danny Venter, Thabo Pelesane, and many others who are now superstars and pioneers in their selected fields.
This morning as I woke up to another rendition of Mother Nature’s symphonies produced through the melodic sounds of her very own orchestra, I walked out to a clear blue sky, took in a deep breath of the life giving, soothing and almost therapeutic morning air, and witnessed the revival of the life of the streets of this wonderful township by the inflow of young people laughing and talking as they make their way to their different places of employment and other to school, and as this unfolded, I realised that Jouberton might not be the ideal home for most, but for me, it’s the perfect home!