From Hillbrow with Love

“Why only a month?” was Nigel Branken’s first question. It was probably meant to throw us off guard and it had the desired effect. His question was quite a contrast to our often fielded enquiry of why a month in the first place.

We were in the middle of Hillbrow, sitting on their couch and swopping stories in their cheerily named apartment block called Blouberg. Not surprisingly, the apartment name failed to conjure up emotive images of Table Mountain that it might have been supposed to.

Looking across at the Branken's neighbouring building

Looking across at the Branken’s neighbouring apartment

Hillbrow is an inner city suburb so rough that high rise residents have a penchant for throwing things like engine blocks and pool tables onto unsuspecting passers as part of New Year Festivities.  Watching a big rubbish bag being tossed to the ground from 10 stories up, hitting the ground with a resounding thump only emphasised the point. As did the rest of the litter drifting in lazy gravitational pursuit.

It gave me that feeling of being on holiday. Not in the ‘sun drenched beach’ sense of the word, but rather that this was a parallel universe to my daily life.

Nigel and Trish were probably never quite your stereotypical middle class family. But two years ago, their decision to move from the leafy streets of Midrand to the Bronx of South Africa must have been quite a curveball to family and friends alike.

To Nigel and Trish, this is what makes them come alive in the world. It can’t be easy to have made the lifestyle adjustments they have needed to make. It also can’t be easy to be held up at gunpoint on a disconcertingly regular basis as part of an unofficial cell phone exchange programme.

But their story has been captivating enough to inspire Carte Blanche interviews and impact on many people around them in small, big and meaningful ways. ( The question of ‘What makes you come alive in the world’ is often a double-edged sword laced with incredible vulnerability and incredible passion.

Which brings me to what George Washington Carver would have said about the Brankens: “When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

At least, there are some crazier people than us out there…


  1. "Moruti" Lutz says:

    I agree with Nigel – at least in part. Not that it is a bad idea to do this for a month – I think it’s great and I can only encourage you in this step!

    I think, you just need to be aware that a month is **very short** – it will fly by just like that. If you want to gain some experience and exposure – you will be fine. If you expect to see change – you are bound to be hugely disappointed, I would say.

    And in my view the issue is one of building trust. It takes time, much time. If you want to gain attention, just drive into an informal settlement or a township, and you get it in 20 seconds. If you want to gain the people’s trust, it may take month’s or even years.

    So, in that sense, I would say: it is a great thing, a brilliant project; but don’t be surprised if in September you come to the insight / conclusion: this was only the beginning…

  2. Bernard says:

    We need more people – more white people (my fellow white friends) – to take a leap across the cultural divide. We always hear how divided our coutry still is! Well done for laying one small, tiny, brick to bridge that divide!

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