There must have been something here, where Johannesburg stands, before
the gold rush, but it was never recorded in history. So Johannesburg became
and remained, by default, an instant city, periodically growing and being
torn down as the gold seams shifted course in one direction or another and
the needs of its ﬁckle residents changed. Beer halls, brothels, and bioscopes
rapidly outnumbered places of worship.
And speaking of places of worship—in the early days, when each cathedral
was built it was granted a full block of the city’s infrastructure to stand on,
but Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal Republic, permitted the Jewish
synagogue only half a block, arguing that Jews read only half of the Bible.
So it has always been a politically and racially charged city. It is said that
Johannesburg has been built up and torn down no fewer than ﬁve times since
it ﬁrst appeared on the Highveld in 1886. And each time it has reemerged even
uglier than before.
It has its charms. They say that Johannesburg has the most extensive
greenbelts of any city in the world—grassy parks with swimming pools and
jacaranda trees. But to return to politics, we have to remind ourselves that it
is only relatively recently that these beautiful amenities have been available
to all its citizens, regardless of color.
Ten years after we liberated the city from its oppressive past, most of the
parks have turned into brownish wilderness—particularly those around the
center of the city, where the former inhabitants have abandoned their green