A walk in Joburg: The terracotta army

December 21 2010

After four days in Johannesburg my feet are beginning to atrophy, on account of the fact that life in the northern suburbs basically revolves around getting off the couch, getting into the car, and sitting in a coffee shop in a mall.

I was determined this afternoon to do something relatively unheard of. I went for a walk.

Aside from the fact that finding your way around even the newest suburbs on foot is like trying to find the northwest passage, there’s another good reason not many people walk  here. Unless you really understand the subtle nuances of different brands of razer wire and electric fence, there’s not a lot to see. Seas of terracotta paint and cooncrete walls and… bugger all else really. Except for that other distinguishing feature of Joburg housing – private security  road blocks on public roads.

The guards were baffled by the sight of a pedestrian

Still, I did have two revelations. Firstly, I understand why people drive so recklessly (although in fairness the roads feel safer than last time I was  here) – anything to inject a bit of excitement into the place. The only shop within walking distance is – course – a garage. I did find a pub. It was closed.

Still, the other revelation was a little more abstruse. I have no idea why almost every house in the suburbs is painted in a similar shade of terracotta. But while pondering this, I suddenly realised why the South African operating system Ubuntu has stuck so religiously to its brown colour scheme over the years, despite much mocking from anyone with taste.

It’s based on the look of suburbia.

I should point out that I do like a lot of things about Johannesburg. But the whole car-culture thing leaves me cold…

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