WE GOT lost in Gauteng, then got wondering who wouldn’t? Then some clever dick pointed out to me that in fact he never got lost in the City of Gold.
As I drove from petrol station to petrol station asking for directions, it dawned on me that I was barking up the wrong tree. These were ‘pedestrians’ giving directions to a ‘driver.’ You see there is a world of difference between driving in that maze, and riding in a kombi. Never mind the fact that it was already dark, and there was construction work and detours everywhere.
This was my first time driving in Jozi, the last time I was here we were being chauffeur-driven courtesy of Mayor Amos Masondo’s office — celebrity style.
Not one of those petrol attendants knew where Hartbeespoort was, let alone the shortest route to Lenasia, from where we could easily get to our destination. Then it struck me; this guy who responded on Facebook boasting that he (it must have been a he) ‘never’ got lost in Joburg was a pedestrian in the best sense of the word. I know, full bloodied men do not admit to such things as losing directions, let alone admit that they take public transport to work.
But then it was through such peculiar circumstances that we managed to get to reach those places they keep warning you about, albeit unknowingly. It was all because we took a wrong off-ramp and we could have as well ended up in cuckoo land.
As we drove around in circles for what seemed like ages (in fact it was about four hours) looking for a way out, it also became a life changing moment for my wife Nomusa. Joel Osteen described a similar situation in his book Become A Better You. You would swear he was in our car.
Nomusa and I were coming from Emperor’s Palace after a very successful business meeting. We were heading back to our hosts, the Dlaminis’ residence. Osteen takes it from here in his version:
“I asked Victoria whether I should turn right or left and she said we need to turn right. I looked up and down the street, and didn’t recognise anything to the right, so I said, no, I think we should turn left. Victoria looked in every direction, and said, No Joel, I know we need to go right.”
It is at this point that the man totally loses all reason and asserts himself, which regrettably happened in our case as well. We go back to the Olsen case:
“’Victoria (Nomusa) our house (Hartbeespoort) is that way,’ I said, pointing to the left. ‘I know we need to go in that direction.’ I pulled out and drove in that direction. She said, ‘Well that’s fine, but we are going in the wrong way.’”
Now at this point after such a wonderful experience at the meeting, networking and getting motivated, this is when the atmosphere in the car changes. We are uptight and on edge, so were Joel and Victoria.
Joel: “We were hardly talking to each other over something so insignificant. If I would have just swallowed my pride and gone her way, what’s ten minutes going to matter?”
But no, Lenox had to show Nomusa who was right. I had to prove my point. So I started driving … and driving … and driving all over Jozi.
“I was trying my best to act as if I knew where I was going, but I might as well have been in Japan! I had no idea where we were,” continues Joel.
Similarly, we could see the freeway but had no clue as to how we would get on it.
“Every time I looked at Victoria, she’d just smile and say, ‘Well you should have listened to me, maybe we’ll get home by this time tomorrow.’ The more she rubbed it in, the more aggravated I became.”
It was after wandering around for thirty minutes that Joel gave in and suggested that they go back and starting afresh.
In our case, Nomusa suggested that we go back to OR Tambo International Airport and retrace our tracks. You guessed right, she was overruled. If only I had listened to her, it would have taken us exactly forty minutes to find our way home. But not according to this obstinate clever dick.
We ended up at some restaurant called Jimmy’s somewhere around Eastgate where I stopped to ask for directions. Two chaps who had just knocked off work there offered to direct us to the best point from where we could rejoin the bypass. I told them we wanted to get to Lenasia which they said was on their way home and we drove off with our passengers talking animatedly at the back.
Now there are a few golden rules you just don’t break when in Jozi. One of them is to never give lifts to strangers and the other is not to ask for directions from the same. I broke both. Somehow in the worst of situations, one tends to believe in the innate goodness of man.
Judging by the accent of the two, I concluded that they were fellow Zimbabweans, breaking another rule to never trust homeboys. Add that to the fact that 99.9 percent of crime in the Inner Johannesburg area is committed by foreigners, that is if you believe in statistics.
They introduced themselves as Moyo and Dube from the Plumtree area of southern Zimbabwe. If you are the suspicious type, Moyo and Dube are the two most common surnames in that area. As they directed us through unfamiliar territory, we casually broached the subject of crime. It seems uCele (Bheki Cele the Police Chief) was a no-nonsense man and on top of the situation as if that was any comfort to us.
“The cops just shoot your nuts off,” Dube said matter-of-factly as he tried to open the bottle of port he must have lifted from his workplace. Apparently, crime had generally gone down in the inner city and hopefully it isn’t just for the World Cup.
In spite of our apprehension, these two looked like genuinely concerned yet relieved citizens who were glad that something was working in Mzansi.
Lost in our conversation, Moyo suddenly announced that we were entering Berea. We were passing under the shadow of the Hillbrow Tower with its huge soccer ball and the landscape had suddenly changed. Nomusa had gone deathly quiet as we drove through streets swarming with humanity. This was Jozi’s crime capital and here we were in a nice shiny car, displaying foreign number plates, driving smack right through it with two strangers in the back seat!
Were we another crime statistic waiting to be recorded? The men from Plumtree sensed our apprehension as we drove into yet another dark street telling us “we’d find the lights again”.
We later dropped them off along the way to the Helen Joseph Hospital where they told us to ‘drive straight and not to turn’. Relieved, yet without much to work with, we realised that our situation was the same, if not worse, than when we picked up the guys from Plumtree and that we had just given them a free lift. So it was back to square one and it was time to admit defeat.
“Let us drive back to OR Tambo and start again.” As I retrieved my tail from between my legs, Nomusa said something to the effect that Hillbrow wasn’t “such a bad place after all.” Of course she could say that because had driven through it and emerged alive with our car intact!
As we philosophised over our involuntary visit to Zimbrow, we realised that as this drama played itself out, we had forgotten all about God, the ultimate giver of all directions. It was that thought alone that led to a major miracle. Four hours later and to the minute, a sign pointing to Lenasia stood right there in front of us and we were no longer lost in Jozi — officially.