On Friday, Johannesburg, the city established along the main gold reef on the Witwatersrand, the city that built South Africa and the city that remains at the centre of commerce and industry, went silent.
Its inhabitants, from the far East Rand to Munsieville in the west, from the north in Midrand, to the south in Walkerville, mostly retreated indoors.
A city whose streets which on a normal Friday morning is clogged with transport and taxis and cars, its workers and businessmen jostling with each other on the sidewalks, its townshps heaving with factory foremen and miners running for trains and its green parks invaded by runners and dogs, mostly stayed out of sight.
Johannesburg, as The Star’s famous cartoonist Abe Berry wrote, “is an upstart of a city, like an arriviste pushing his way into society. It is brash with a certain agate edge of sophistication”.
He quotes British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge who described the city as “a rough Babylon, prospering mightily”.
When he arrived in Johannesburg Nelson Mandela was overwhelmed by Johannesburg’s lights which seemed to stretch forever.
“I remembered the stories … of buildings so tall you could not see the tops, of crowds of people speaking languages that you’d never heard of, of sleek motor cars and beautiful women and dashing gangsters. It was eGoli, the city of gold, where I would soon be making my home.”
Johannesburg has always been, as Arthur Cartwright notes in his history of the city, The Corner House, “a dusty, dreary place”.
On Friday it was silent and lonely.
Its broad streets largely empty and the spirit of a city emblematic of South Africa’s history and its future, subdued.