By Bruce J. Little
My Brixton romance began just over ten years ago. I debuted a small queer cabaret show at Elzabe Zietsman's panoramically gorgeous ‘Glaskas’ situated inside Zietsies Guesthouse, in Beverly Road, and my affection has only mushroomed since. Elzabé’s love and labour for this hood are contagious and it infected me.
Eighteen months ago, I realised a lifelong dream and bought a beautiful house in Putney Road from an old school friend of mine, Sophia, her hubby Fried, and their brand-new baby Max.
Since then, my folks and I have had a fat jol making the place our own, painting and scraping, decorating and DIYing. My dad and I were up a ladder with either a hammer or a drill most weekends. Bliss – well, my idea of it, anyway.
There’s a lot to love about Brixton.
I’m sure loads has already been written on its heritage, so I will focus on why it rocks right now, for me. It’s a real mixed masala of people in the community. But for real though, not in that cheesy, forced, and dubious Rainbow Nation vibes kind of way.
On most streets in Brixton, you will find the poor and the affluent, the academic and the poorly educated, the privileged, and those in need of upliftment living side by side.
Artists and architects, musicians and master’s students, the unemployed, and the upwardly mobile. People from all over Africa and even Europe, a number of different faiths, and a good selection of sexual orientations to add some glitter to the spice.
Brixton is not a suburb with gentrification on the agenda, well at least not in the way that I experienced it in Cape Town when I lived in the Bokaap. This is not about wealthy people buying quaint colourful houses steeped in culture from disenfranchised locals, painting them a bleak white or trendy gunmetal grey and making everything ‘tres chic’ without so much as a nod to the community that existed there for over a century before.
The general trend in Brixton it seems to me is to restore, rejuvenate, and embrace what is already here and to uplift and involve the community along the way rather than replace them. It’s a civil process, with locals often taking initiatives (usually at their own expense) for the benefit of the rest. A good example being the resources, upkeep, and labour that’s been poured into the Kingston Frost Park by a handful of Brixies with big hearts for years now.
Look, the place isn’t perfect. We have our fair share of community WhatsApp wars and there are times when sleep is disturbed at odd hours by blaring music, slamming taxi doors, irritating revving car engines and the odd religious all-night vigil involving incessant drumming. But for the most part, our people are friendly and considerate of those that live around them. We keep an eye out for one another and with the assistance of Raid armed response, do what we can to make our streets as crime-free as possible. Weirdly, I feel much safer in Brixton than I ever did in Craighall Park.
Brixton also loves to host free or affordable community events or fundraisers. Gigs like mini-concerts by the South African National Youth Orchestra in the most colourful church hall you’ve ever seen, to weed pulling get-togethers in the park or neighbourhood sunflower seed planting projects on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Recently, we hosted our first ever Brixton Light Festival, a roaring success with a mega (yet responsibly masked) turnout that made my heart swell. Stalls, fairy lights, music, and merrymaking ‘highlighted’ by a colourful light parade featuring a dancing dragon, our local reclaimer heroes from the African Reclaimers Organisation and their pimped-out trollies, recycled costumes, characters and eco-activist performers from the Well Worn Theatre Company, surrounded by dozens of deliriously happy flag-yielding local kids having the time of their lives in a safe environment.
The whole thing was organised, set up and then taken down by dedicated Brixies. Gearhouse Splitbeam Pty. Ltd. sponsored lights and sound to the value of thousands of Rands and Fried Wilsenach and numerous other volunteers were the elves behind the scenes that made just about everything happen. The venue looked spectacular and the music was a crowd-pleasing jam.
I loved that there was no booze on sale, so the kids could play without having to deal with the unpredictability of drunk adults. We didn’t need it; it was hella festive anyway.
A local community pillar, René van Niekerk always brings as many kids as he can from the Children of Fire charity organisation to our events and it’s terrific to see the mishmash of kids from different backgrounds all playing together.
Brixton rocks because within the span of a few blocks, you get mouth-watering Meppel pancakes (weekends and holidays) and killer cappuccinos set in the exquisitely retro-designed succulent wonderland that is Breezeblock. Until recently there was an art exhibition at Shade, a gallery in Caroline street, exhibiting the fascinating story of a family of Chinese immigrants that occupied the same space in the early 70s.
In our community, there is a lady named Linda who makes fresh Chinese food from home as well as a popular roadhouse called Deli Den SA, which offers everything from platters, wraps, pulled beef brisket to pap & vleis and chicken & chips.
There’s also the bloody marvellous Brixton Co-Op, a community collective that rose from the economic ashes of the corona lockdown, offering rusks, cookies, entire drool-inducing meals, onion marmalade and a milk tart you would sell your mother for, lovingly prepared by Erica Louw, Agnes Mabaso and their awesome associates.
If you’re ever in the mood for afro soul food in a jazzing urban environment, you can swing by the Roving Bantu Kitchen & Treks and may even catch a live reggae or jazz performance to keep your toes tapping as you attend to your tastebuds.
These are just a few of the many feathers in the cap of this no-frills but pretty special part of Johannesburg.
When my dad died in August from a cocktail of covid and cancer, the people of Brixton held my mom and I so tightly and we were blown away by all the support, meals and love that we were enfolded in during this terrible time in our lives. Flowers and banana bread (and so much more) all brimming with love just arrived at our door. Brixton can be so beautiful.
It’s funny, the night of the Brixton Light Festival I offered Tarot Readings to raise funds for charity. I’ve done this before at an event and was swamped with people queuing for readings.
That night I didn’t have any customers and ended up only giving one free reading to a friend. I think it’s because all the Brixies at the festival that night didn’t feel they needed their future read.
Perhaps they already know it’s going to be bright.
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