I claim I love Johannesburg more than anyone else on the planet. I was born here. I eat these streets. I declare myself Ms Joburg 2013 — for today (you can have it tomorrow) — and here, for my inaugural address, is my ardent wish for our town:

On orders from the executive mayor of Johannesburg, Councillor Parks Tau, an unprecedented, regeneration programme, The Corridors of Freedom, has embraced our city. A pact, a partnership, conversations, and a great plan, the programme is “for free streets and unparalleled regeneration” — for which our current administration will be lauded in history.

This is my ardent wish:

That the executive mayor makes a certain speech in which he is reported to say that the Corridors of Freedom are a surprise, awe, and sustain campaign, an ongoing and determined action, supported, in spirit, by every single employee of the City of Johannesburg, and, in action, by every city department and agency.

And we need all the help we can get — here’s looking at you Joburgers — said the executive mayor, whose very own mom is said to have sold tomatoes on these very streets of all of ours. It is a family thing this city, he went on to say in this only slightly hyperbolic excerpt from my wish:

We need all of you said the executive mayor, speaking of us, and obsessed with inclusivity. That includes you journalists and big media, all of you residents whose love for Joburg is legion. We need every homeless man, woman and child. Also. We need people who pass through and the zama zama, who I doubt we can do without. We need the artists, the writers, the musos. We need to dance this future.

But it doesn’t end there, said the best Joburger, ever. We need everyone: that means you great leaders of the corporations, the retailers, property developers and, especially, we need the informal business people of our beautiful city. I am looking at you all with big eyes said our executive mayor, so well-named he is hey after bright green places, the colour of hope. The colour of my ardent wish.

What a beautiful day, said Parks who was wondering whether the recent four on the Richter scale earthquake had something to do with his involvement in my wish — which went on: We will move now with extreme urgency on poverty relief and healthy environments throughout Joburg inner city. We need the court to request that the inner-city traders are welcome home. There will be minimal trader and consumer disruption pressure cleaning of our streets once every ____ months. (Please complete, my ardent wish needs the practical knowledge.)

Our cleaning agency will. do. its. job. And, where it has capacity issues, the JMPD (who we note have great energy and power to do all sorts of things) will step in to help — fixing dustbins, repairing open manholes, straightening lopsided poles. And they will do all this with help from people with skills working with unemployed local youngsters (contracted afterwards to maintenance).

This is not a short show said the executive mayor. There are better days before us. We will even see to it that our local police mend their relationships with love. Ha. It will be beautiful, unforgettable, historic — and utterly South African. They will immediately fix or replace all the broken traders stalls they so misfortunately broke themselves during a recent big mistake that I am pleased to advise is now over.

Everyone wants to be part of the solution, you will see this with your eyes, the executive mayor raised his voice and was banging his hands on the table to emphasis the ardent nature of my wish.

Indeed, said he, we will go further than even we can imagine:

We will motivate for and participate in good conversations about the presence and plight of so many refugees and foreigners in our city. We will find ways forward that put people first. This is not talk he said, handing a JMPD general a shovel. This is no easy walk said the mayor, who was living and breathing our beloved Constitution, which is why, he said, that famous book is called the LONG walk to freedom.

We will, said the mayor, (amazed himself to be speaking so freely in my ardent wish), distribute poetically designed and bright coloured dustbin bags mahala for informal traders and derelict places. We will reward people who use them with financial incentives, small business opportunities and maybe even awards. He was becoming practical even in my wish. But take note: if you litter or dump rubbish in our town, we will find you. And we will fine you. And we will even name you on a dishonour roll. And you will be so ashamed. And you will never do that again.

Yeah man. Said the mayor, twice like a riff in my wish, because he was, in that wish, in such fine form. We need to put the burning bridge behind us said he and I am going first. It is going to be tough. You will join us to work carefully to heal our open wounds, buildings and places that are traumatised spaces in our city where desperate people, criminals, families and children live side by side in great danger — and in big trouble. We are neighbours after all. And furthermore, I have happily changed my mind about the previous New York aspiration. I have decided that we are us — and that “us” is what makes Joburg cook. We are going to walk and play in these streets at night. Don’t just watch.

At which point he started singing “Come with me down Paradise Road … “.

The song was not part of my ardent wish (which went on for so many pages — even with bullet points — it just had to be edited), but featured instead in a sweet dream I had last night.

Turn up the volume guys.



  • Lesley Perkes writes about the state of imagination, her general loss of respect for politics and big business with too few exceptions, eyesores, aesthetically pleasing moments of bliss. Every now and then she writes too about grave matters some people think are best kept to yourself. She does not. Err. Obviously. Sometimes she writes about the silencing and the wars. MsChief at artatwork, a public arts action dis-organisation based in Johannesburg, Lesley is also #lesfolies at The Troyeville Bedtime Story, a timeless legend and neighbourgood adventure, in happy collaboration with Johannes Dreyer, photographer and artist. Writer, curator, producer and general artist with performative tendencies, in February this year Lesley spoke at TED2013 in Los Angeles. It was a life experience of note. She uses her time to fund, or find funding and resources to produce artwork and advocate for make-believe.


Lesley Perkes

Lesley Perkes writes about the state of imagination, her general loss of respect for politics and big business with too few exceptions, eyesores, aesthetically pleasing moments of bliss. Every now and...

Leave a comment