“Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!” The epigraph for Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby by D’Invilliers
High school geography describes the Witwatesrand (Vaal, Pretoria and Johannesburg) as what is called a megalopolis; and because of the separate municipalities in close proximity but removed from the CBD like Sandton, Randburg, and Roodepoort to name a few, make Johannesburg 4 times bigger than the normal official characterisation of a metropolis like London. That being said the migration from the extremities of Johannesburg, the South or East towards the North (Sandton) has been obvious to say the least. I decided to borrow the concept of ‘the green light’ from Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, I’ve read the book and recently saw the movie; where the green light symbolises a dream, a hope, but one undeserving and unworthy at that.
In Jay Gatsby’s case, the green light was the hope and dream of a reunion with Daisy; a character that didn’t really deserve the dedicated affection. Today, even amongst my friends, the move to the North is the green light, we all want to touch the green light. Scholarly analysts of the book blamed a generation with decaying social and moral values evident in over indulgence, cynicism and greed. And looking at ourselves right now as a nation I can say we’re right there. Juju has lost his Rolex, Sandton mansion, and farm because greed drove him to engage in the trades that are becoming norms to this society: illegal back door tenders and corruption (equivalent of The Great Gatsby’s bootlegging and organised crime syndicates). And he’s not the only one, he’s just the one who got caught.
But we’re all staring at the green light pawning for the other side. We’ve also suffered a blow to the moral belief systems we grew up with; even messages preached by missionaries seemed hypocritical post-apartheid. As Nelson Mandela’s life is drawing to an end, I wonder if we have the ability to create meaningful symbols like he was. Symbols are central to the ability of a nation to aspire to loftier goals. The dreams he had were for true universal human emancipation, abolishing poverty and for peace.
I have to admit his dreams are very communal. I have grown to learn how communal the African mentality is and not individualistic like the Western one. I say this not as an expect but from reading a few analysis on what Fitzgerald thought the American dream was in his book: the spirit of discovery, individualism, and the pursuit of happiness. All good, individualism supports emancipation and allowing people the freedom to be whom they choose without oppression; and peace and happiness go hand in hand; the difference being the perspective, one being from primarily personal perspective, the other from a communal one.
When I started this piece it was going to share my experience at the Renaissance Spa in the Michelangelo Towers. The whole reason my friend and I went, was in my words, ‘to live like the Sanxonwold-ers’ for a day’. Of course that’s not really practical in the true sense unless I want to wreck my credit card. I just wanted to experience a high-end spa treatment. Being a self-proclaimed neophiliac (lover of new things), my condition dictates that the new experiences whatever they may be, be authentic; and I need to reciprocate as well.
I once went to a club, Taboo, in Sandton, I felt like I was suffocating from all the Gatsbys. When my friend and I emerged at 2 am, we both just went, ‘that was so weird!’ We’d tried to make the best of it but the truth is we were stuck in a small space with people pawning for the green light even when they were physically in old money territory.
I guess what I’m trying to figure out is: what is the South African ‘green light’ worthy of pursuing that we should all be making strides to reach. What is my green light besides novelty?
But that being said, some of our citizens are on to something beyond materialism; Patrice Motsepe, the 4th richest person in the country is donating half his $2.9b (March 2013 from www.forbes.com). He was on the news recently giving about half a billion Rands in Western Cape towships. Salute to him. I wonder what’s his green light.