Joburg is 'fucked up' – Jozi My Jozi is set to change that

18 Jan 2024
On Nov 22, 2023, on Braamfontein's Juta Street, on a blazing hot Wednesday and set against the backdrop of the Nelson Mandela Bridge, signatures were exchanged on a document that is set to change the future of Joburg.

Unlike the Bree Street explosion that ripped through the city and our hearts, revealing the dire state of our historic City Centre and years of neglect, this event barely caused a ripple. It came at a time when Joburg was hurtling into the festive season as fast as a speeding taxi on Commissioner Street. And yet, we believe it has the potential to make an even more significant impact.

Meet Jozi My Jozi, the force behind what we hope will be the city’s greatest transformation since the infectious energy and burst of effort that was the last fundamental shift of the city’s fortunes in the lead-up to 2010. Jozi My Jozi is a movement to inspire hope, a coalition whose founding members are a fascinating assortment that includes top-listed companies and not-for-profit organisations. 

They include mining giant Anglo American, banks Absa, FNB, Nedbank, and Standard, consulting firm IQ Business, Microsoft, educational institution Wits University, and the not-for-profit Maharishi Invincibility Institute, a “skills-to-work educational institution” that since inception has placed more than 19,000 graduates in jobs. Then there’s the chicken giant Nando’s whose people possess the hearts of lions, not-for-profit organisation MES that works in several South African cities towards sustainable solutions to pervasive poverty, and creative agency We Are Bizarre, led by Melusi Mhlungu, an award-winning adman who returned home from New York charged with Joburg’s renewal. 

These are not the people you would usually find around a boardroom table, and Jozi My Jozi representatives have spent a significant amount of time on Joburg’s streets – from a four-week Standard Bank clean-up through November, that drew staff teams of up to 400 for a Wednesday clean-up, to Jozi My Jozi representatives meeting with taxi owners at the Bree Street rank to understand the issues that affect one of the city’s most critical sectors. “It’s not enough to say ‘I love Joburg’,” says Mhlungu. “Jozi My Jozi is an ode to the city we love. My thinking is, if we can use that love we have for the city, let’s use that love to help fix it.”

When he launched his agency We Are Bizarre in Braamfontein on a cold night in July 2023, he told an appreciative crowd that usually when you get a brief for a campaign, the product is the part you don’t worry about. Joburg, on the other hand, he laughed wryly, is like that car that’s missing the engine and is sitting on bricks because the wheels have been stolen.
Under the pergola. Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda (fourth from L), acting CEO of Jozi My Jozi Bea Swanepoel (sixth from L), Corporate Services Manager of Anglo American Anton Uys (seventh from L), Nando's co-founder Robbie Brozin (eighth from L), and head of creative agency We Are Bizarre Melusi Mhlungu (third from R). Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.


In the words of Robbie Brozin, co-founder of Nando’s, this city is “fucked up”. But the urgency to arrest this is underscored by its status as a powerhouse city on the continent; the richest in terms of what it brings together, a creative beating heart, an economic force, a city of grit and determination. “If we lose Joburg, we lose South Africa. We can’t afford that. No one can.”

Under a pergola on that November day, signatures were added to a landmark agreement that clears the way for collaboration between City of Joburg officials and Jozi My Jozi. This Memorandum of Understanding had been months in the making and is a landmark commitment to the regeneration of the City Centre. 

It clears the way for the first Jozi My Jozi project, a symbolic act: the reinstatement of the Nelson Mandela Bridge as a place of pride in the city. In the coming months, the glass barriers and the famous rainbow lighting by French engineer Patrick Rimoux will be restored, while at the same time, a sustainable plan will be implemented for increased security. The bridge is also an important marker as it is a gateway into the City Centre from Braamfontein.
Nelson Mandela Bridge in 2015 Photo: Darren Smith
Nelson Mandela Bridge in 2015. Since then the bridge has been pillaged, its lighting stolen, and its glass barriers shattered. Renewing this proud symbol of a post-1994 Joburg is the first project for Jozi My Jozi. Photo: Darren Smith.


One of the key moments in the city’s recent trajectory has been the departure of Anglo American from its historic 44 Main Street complex in Ferreirasdorp. It’s still a magnificent complex dominated by the elegant edifice of 44 Main Street, designed by London architectural firm Burnet Tait & Lorne. Across the walkway the Impala Stampede (a sculpture donated to the city by Harry Oppenheimer in 1960) dances across a manicured garden, oblivious to the city’s changes. The move was seen by many critics as heralding the “end” of the city’s story. But, ironically, now it appears this is instead a turning point. Anton Uys, Corporate Services Manager of Anglo American said when the move was decided he was tasked with two important duties: pack up the immense complex and transport it to Rosebank, and leave a legacy for the mining goliath Anglo American in the city. The complexity of the challenge presented would probably have felled most people, but Uys is not one to shy away from a challenge.
Herman Wald's impalas dance outside Anglo American. Photo: Jac de Villiers. 

As quiet descended over the 44 Main Street complex and its surrounds, feverish activity began behind the scenes. Discussions, negotiations, evaluations and much more. How to create a lasting legacy for a company that is a founding giant of the city, and of South Africa’s mining sector. Some of these discussions are ongoing, but already some plans have been implemented. On Aug 4, 2023, the walls of 45 Main Street, the regal building facing 44 Main Street across the precinct, shook with the magnificent sounds of the orchestra of the Maharishi Invincibility Institute. Anglo American, who has been a supporter of this unique educational institution, had gifted 45 Main Street, ensuring that the lives of literally thousands of young people in the city are positively impacted by creating access to quality education, and more so, to the job market. 
The handover of 45 Main Street to Maharishi Invincibility Institute in Aug 2023. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

With the city having been poorly maintained for several years, the result of rapidly changing successive city governance (Joburg has had nine mayors in five years, including the current mayor) and the aftermath of a pandemic, plus the ongoing burden of the post-1994 flight from the city by big business which resulted in an ever-increasing number of abandoned and then hijacked buildings, Joburg is like a moth-eaten tapestry. Its fabric uneven, a few threads still tightly woven, and then on the next block, a building that looks like it was eaten alive by a rat. So the idea of connecting vital precincts – from Braamfontein into the heart of the city to 44 Main Street  – and creating a safe passage that is coherent and consistent is very much a part of Jozi My Jozi’s thinking. The bridge is therefore a symbolic marker in more ways than one, also a nod to its namesake, who was given the freedom of Johannesburg with its redesign in 2004. It’s tragically amusing that, given the freedom of the city today, most people would run a mile.

Jozi My Jozi is a reason for hope. A new start and approach. There is much more to come. Commenting on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, Irene Mafune, Regional Director of Urban Management at the City of Joburg said the city welcomes Jozi My Jozi as a much-needed partner. “This partnership came at a time when there is so much negativity around the City’s capability to deliver on its mandate, with some public narratives suggesting that we are again experiencing 'urban flight' with business packing up and leaving the inner city. The signing of the MoU and all other engagements leading to the agreement being drafted is a reassurance to the City that not all is lost. There are still businesses who have confidence in the City and want to be part of the team driving such redevelopment programmes.”
A fresh chapter for our city! Jozi My Jozi and City of Joburg sign a Memorandum of Understanding. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.
A fresh chapter for our city! Jozi My Jozi and City of Joburg sign a Memorandum of Understanding. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

The agreement clears the way for Jozi My Jozi to push forward on key projects in collaboration with the City of Joburg that involve multiple city departments, among them Joburg Roads Agency, Pikitup, Joburg Water and City Power. Without blanket leave to do this, any efforts by the private sector to intervene in infrastructure-related issues are quickly strangled by cross-department red tape. The MoU removes the noose. 

Jozi My Jozi has a list of projects set for implementation that include integrated waste management, maintenance of critical infrastructure, installation of public safety space management cameras, and the approval of a lease for a bathhouse for the Homeless Service Centre operated by MES in Hillbrow.

Says Bea Swanepoel, Acting CEO of Jozi My Jozi: “The youth of today deserve a city that they can be proud of. We are doing this for the next generation. I really believe that the turnaround of Jozi is possible. It might be difficult – but not impossible! The joy of seeing people work together for a common goal is an amazing feeling!  We have all seen what happens if we do not get involved.”
To join the movement as a corporate or an individual and see how you can be part of the change, sign up at Simply click on the “Contact Us” button and select the appropriate category.


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