Lost in Hillbrow

Ponte Hillbrow South Africa

I was in my third year studying advertising at Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. My year was one of the first when black and white students were allowed to study together at RAU. Before that, black students typically went to WITS.

As part of our advertising module that year, we were separated into groups and had to come up with a campaign for a charity that deals with homeless children. In my group, was this black guy with the nickname “Clicks”—because no-one could get the click in the middle of his name right, which (if I remember correctly) was Ontongliwe. Clicks came from a wealthy and illustrious family; his dad was a General in the army and Clicks had gone to a very good school in Joburg, and then to RAU. He was lovely and we all got on well in the group, and the fact that Clicks’ family had a lot of contacts was also great for this particular assignment.

Our group decided that it would be a good idea to go and visit a homeless shelter in Hillbrow—field research, as such. Clicks and I decided we would go together (safety in numbers) and I volunteered to drive us. We hit the road, enthused about visiting a place that would give us insight into the campaign we were creating and also to spend some time with children who were growing up without families. We drove for a bit and I ended up taking a couple of wrong turns, taking us into that part of Hillbrow—gangsters, street vendors, addicts, prostitutes, dilapidated buildings, abandoned vehicles, trash, crime, murder, rape, pillage…that sort of stuff. We were lost.

We daren’t stop so I carried on driving, trying not to look conspicuous; until I turned into one of those streets. All of a sudden a hoard of Nigerain drug dealers descended on my little green Golf Chicco and started knocking on the windows and offering us stuff. We were scared. I looked at Clicks, Clicks looked at me, and he said, “Great, I’m going to die in Hillbrow with a white girl.

We couldn’t stop laughing and as I rolled away from the dealers Clicks kept shaking his head saying, “What’s my dad going to think of this? Me dying in Hillbrow, in a Golf Chicco but worst of all…with a white girl.” And the more we thought about it the more we laughed, drug dealers and all.

We made it out alive…and also to the homeless shelter, with tear stains down our cheeks.


Storyteller: Anja Maschwitz

Author: Andrea Zanin

Anja Maschwitz lives in Hastings with her husband and daughter. She loves yoga, swimming in the sea and exploring the woods and landscapes nearby. Anja is a qualified Montessori school teacher and has lived in the UK since 2009. 

Photo Credit to Dlala Nje

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