Now is probably not the best time to admit this but I went to Glenvista High School. For those unsure as to why my confession is poorly timed, you may want to read this news article about a young boy who assaulted his teacher. For years, the suburbs of southern Johannesburg have had a reputation for producing troglodyte-like residents who would greet you as soon as they would punch you and run off with your wallet. But I can tell you that I walk upright, have opposable thumbs, am not afraid of fire and have a healthy looking criminal record.
My matric year produced some notable alumni, including chartered accountants, doctors, actuaries, pilots and at least one writer who forces his ramblings on readers of a popular property portal. So why does the dodgy-part-of-town stereotype still persist? There are properties in Bassonia that dwarf some of Houghton’s stateliest homes.
The East Rand is another area that gets a bad wrap. Of course, this wasn’t helped by the recent shooting at a music festival. Despite the fact that one of South Africa’s very few Academy Award winners is from Benoni, the East Rand is touted as the place to go if you want to get into a bar fight. Though the same can be said of Krugersdorp. And Joburg South. And Alberton. Clearly, Gauteng is a province filled potential boxers.
Stereotypes develop for a number of reasons. They are taught to us and reinforced through people we are in contact with or the media; and they have a tendency to make us, or the places we live in, seem better than the alternatives. And when a news story breaks about a shooting or assault in that area, it confirms our bias even though the same events may occur in other places.
When it comes to area stereotypes I often wonder whether history has had a part to play in perception. For example, in the Middle Ages many streets in England were named after activities that took place there. This nomenclature was suitable if a street contained a row of blacksmiths but on the outskirts of town, where drunken taverns and ladies of the night were commonplace, this convention lead to some bizarre street names. I won’t publish them here but you can look up the history of Oxford’s Magpie Lane. (I recommend that you do not conduct this research at your workstation unless your company has a fairly liberal Internet usage policy.) Given Magpie Lane’s dubious history, it wouldn’t surprise me if the area was deemed unsavoury for years after the name change.
Las Vegas’ image as a mob town began when Benjamin Siegel and his contemporaries populated the town with casinos and strip clubs. Despite the fact that Vegas is home to some of the world’s largest family resorts and that organised crime has taken a downturn, the mafia image is not one easily shaken, no matter how many singers with a downward career trajectory they hire to perform in their hotels.
I now live in Radiokop but have not yet encountered any stereotypes. If they do exist I can only assume that they are positive because whenever I meet new people and tell them where I live, they don’t cower in fear, hide their jewellery or mention that they have a recent parolee cousin from southern Johannesburg.