Type the word Braamfontein into google and you are swamped with articles alluding to a new Brooklyn-like neighbourhood in Central Joburg. ‘Up and Coming’ is a constant phrase used. Packed to the brim with local coffee shops, independent record stores, the best in brunching spots and some of the hippest bars you’ll find. Now, look at the dates these articles were written. 2011, 2012 and then…NOTHING. It is as if Braamfontein has fallen off the face of the earth and all the hipsters have moved along to Maboneng. Braamfontein has gone from one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in South Africa to a forgotten time capsule circa 2012.
It would be easy to blame the so called ‘undesirables‘ ( The developers ‘politically (in)correct’ way of saying poor, black students) for Braamfonteins demise-but that would be too simplistic. Braamfontein is part of a university precinct. That means students are everywhere! Students make up a huge percentage of Braams demographic thus I believe they are, in fact, highly desirable. Students need to eat and party too. The epitome of the perfect target market. Perhaps lets look at the developers for their lack of original thought, not knowing their audience and misleading their tenants. Braam is no longer up and coming… Braam has upped and left.
I had the privilege of studying at the University of the Witwatersrand during the ‘Braam renaissance‘. It became my playground. I got to hop, skip and jump from coffee shop to market to bar. I am the epitome of a white privileged South African. I have never lived in Braam. It had always been a fun escape from the burbs. It was a cool, hipster island I got to explore without the fear of being mugged, murdered or raped. I felt like I was living my best Sex-and-the-city-life. Having said all of this, I have not had to deal with any of the grassroot issues. Business’s shutting down, tenants upping and leaving and a rather large spike in crime. I just picked myself up and joined the Maboneng movement. So, I decided to get in touch with two individuals who will remain nameless to help me understand why the mass exodus. They have both worked, lived and loved in this colourful neighbourhood. These are two people who have experienced directly what is going on.
The first gentleman I spoke to mentioned Zero Evolution of Places of interest. Braamfontein accrued much fandom in its early years due to the opening of trendy bars such as Great Danes and the hipsterfication of Kitcheners ( One of the oldest bars in Joburg). There were daytime attractions too such as Daleahs and Velo. However, like most things, with no evolution came the end of novelty. The lack of diversification of things to do beyond the aforementioned bars and restaurants meant people started looking elsewhere to go.
Once again, knowing your audience is key. The creation of Anti Establishment is just one example. They chose to create an upmarket, expensive and rather exclusive space directly opposite all that is braam. What chance did it have? The developers tried and because they didn’t have their finger on the pulse, they failed. Gentleman number two passionately stated how the developers would not listen to the creatives on the ground. There are so many more inclusive and exciting ways of using these spaces. Pop up shops, keep things new and novel. Little hole in the wall sandwich shops, tea rooms, pizza places and sushi bars are exactly what an area like Braam needs. Not only are these places seen as ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ by the wealthy few they would be reasonably priced to attract the student market too. Keep pretension out of Braam.
Braamfontein is not just a space for entertainment. People invested and made their lives there. They bought into the supposed success of a city lifestyle. These people were let down. Promises were made, never delivered. Landlords seemed to lose interest. They were unavailable and became pre-occupied with their new ventures. This all according to Gentleman number two. Why?! Why throw in the towel so easily? In a developing first-world country one has even more responsibility to follow through on their promises. Perhaps I am idealistic and a touch naive but is that not what makes South Africans so special in the first place, we keep on keeping on. Imagine Tata Madiba just threw in the towel 😉
Crime has become strikingly bad in Braam. Recently a man was shot and killed right outside our beloved Kitcheners. Once again, where are the developers? After all we live in Jozi, we are certainly not short of private security companies. There should be a security member on every street at every time of the day and night and NOT only on the weekends ( Plus: Job creation). Besides the crime, Braam is particularly famous for the many and constant strikes. I am all for strikes. Power to the People and all that shit. My issue is when stores, restaurants and offices are damaged the landlords have a responsibility to make sure everything gets back to normal. In most cases the landlords didn’t even know about these strikes in the first place, placing their tenants in compromising situations. Finger on the pulse? I don’t think so…
All in all we have the many creatives to thank for the brilliance that was Braam. This area did not come from these developers only but also from young, passionate people who recognised Braam’s potential. An area like this is in desperate need of commitment and collaboration from opposite sides of the spectrum. We need the bucks, the balls and the vision. Braam should take a leaf out of Maboneng’s grimy inner-city book of continual commitment in investment into infrastructure and attracting people from all walks of life. Here is hoping someone comes to save the day. Watch this space.