Johannesburg has always been a city obsessed with money and power. In 1886 when hundreds of men (and their families) flocked to the Witwatersrand in search of gold, they were also searching for the power and status that the mineral would provide. The discovery of mineral wealth in the Witwatersrand lit the match for the exploitation of black mine workers, the breakdown of black families, the popularisation of hustle culture and the very Joburg attitude that it’s okay to step on other people to get to where you want to be in life.
The Gold Rush brought money, and money is a man’s game. Like in any other society, money easily plays into the way other social relations are expected to work and people always find ways to abuse whoever is underneath them on the totem pole to varying degrees. It’s in the cauldron of cash and apartheid that masculinities in Johannesburg are boiled.
A quick Twitter search of the phrases “Joburg girl” or “Joburg hun” reveal that the internet has pretty much typecast women of the city as extra’s on a ‘Real Housewives’ reality show. Much like the cast of the Real Housewives of Atlanta, women in Joburg are predominantly black and have been gifted the profile of being rude, untrustworthy and cash hungry. The architects of the stereotypes that populate the timeline are primarily straight men. Popular jibes include comparing Joburg women’s romantic skills to the celebrated acting of Heath Ledger and men claiming that they’ve been traumatized by the dating scene of the city. The general consensus online is that the women of Johannesburg are not to be trusted while men remain largely blameless. These kinds of tweets are ever present but pick up steam (and vitriol) when, for instance, Migos comes to the country or prominent women find themselves embroiled in a battle over AKA.
If anything, Twitter is the newest vessel for a larger culture that demonizes and seeks to humiliate black women for engaging in the same lifestyles that men do. Part of the issue lies in hip-hop culture, which often makes women both it’s priority and it’s punching bag. Hip-hop is also the dominating force in club culture, where many of these negative stereotypes take root. In this image, clubs become the place where the worst of ‘Johannesburg women’ come out to play. Tropes about girls coming to the section to guzzle alcohol they didn’t pay for and common stereotypes about Nigerian blessers at all find their place in the clubs of Joburg North. It’s also important to note that white women seem to be largely left out of this agenda, though they are also present in the same club and fast life culture that black women are. Stories like this feed into the larger narrative that men in Johannesburg are somehow victims to their female counterparts. A narrative that crime and economic statistics can quickly disprove.
Despite being one of the most ‘developed’ cities on the African continent, Johannesburg is still a place very much grappling with the issues of modernity. On July 9thof this year, rapper L-Tido tweeted “Joburg has ruined so many good girls from out of town”. His tweet gained attention, both from supporters and contesters. What it also did was point to a tension that pits rural and urban life in South Africa against one another. L-Tido’s tweet illuminates a popular, strange idea that women are somehow better off in the village than they are in the city, and that a ‘good woman’ can only be found south of Gauteng. This belief negates fact that rural areas in this country are overwhelmingly poorer and underserviced, and that women from these areas might have ambitions that outsize what the government (and history) has given them to work with. When the mining complex in the Witwatersrand began to grow rapidly in the early 1900s, many mine workers left the rural areas for hostels in Johannesburg. In Joburg, many of these men took up new sexual/romantic partners while their wives and children remained home in the villages with less money and less resources. The mentality that women are better off in the rurals while not saying the same of men sounds a lot like the dynamics of the early 1900s.
The underlying theme of all this online noise about ‘Joburg huns’ ultimately lies in an age-old truth: men hate ambitious women. Men don’t like to see women take advantage of the opportunities that they have provided them. Men don’t like to see women play the same game that they do. Most importantly, men have a distinct distaste for women who make use of them but do not need them. Masculinity treats women as capital but hates to be capitalized upon. Women in this city, both raised here and newly relocated, are (to varying degrees) a product of an environment that has for centuries prioritized wealth, glamour and opportunity by any means necessary. The problem here lies not with ‘Joburg huns’ but rather with the fragility of a masculinity made in that same environment.