231: Christmas in South Africa

Christmas in South Africa

Growing up amid the violence of Johannesburg in the early '90s meant that Christmas was a little bit different for John Szczepaniak. He remembers one holiday where all he wanted amongst the black-market imports and counterfeit games available was a Famicom clone.

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Good article, though I think you overplayed the violence that goes on here, true there is a lot of crime, but it shouldn't affect you as long as you're careful. And, of course Christmas here hasn't changed a bit.

I lived in Johannesburg from 1990 to 1996 and people would try to break into our house almost every week, and we also lived behind walls, warped wire, alarm system and irish wolfhounds in the garden. But maybe it was due to our proximity to Alexandra. Often you could hear gunshots when being outside, but alot of it was also political violence.
It was a perverse situation. While you where getting ready to jump into the pool people where killing each other a few kilometers away.

Haha, I loved the familiarity of this article. It's really great to read about a summertime, South African Christmas instead of those weird foreign snowy Christmases for a change.

A friend of mine still has his old imitation-console, the "Golden China TV Game" or something. The sound's gone, but we still play Contra, Ice Climber and all the rest on it sometimes.

Of course, most of my Christmas memories are from the early-2000s, but, despite everything, not much has changed. Not even the crime, unfortunately.

awes0mepenguin:
though I think you overplayed the violence that goes on here, true there is a lot of crime, but it shouldn't affect you as long as you're careful..

No. He is far from overplaying it. In Even to this day, the violence in South Africa is often random, and fueled by desperation. Back in the mid-90s, in Jo-burg, no amount of carefulness could protect you. Lots and lots of guns could, but either way, someone was injured or killed in the end. Violence goes both ways.

John Szczepaniak:
As I recall it, South Africa was a happy melting pot of Italians, Germans, Greeks, Portuguese, East Europeans, Chinese and local ethnic groups

I am truly glad your childhood memories are good, but there was little that was happy about the ethnic melting pot of late apartheid and early post-apartheid. At least not where the local ethnic groups were concerned.

But very well-written piece. And I've long been curious about the South African gaming community. Thanks for the insight ;-)

John Szczepaniak:
Joined: 31 Dec 1969

Wow, you joined the Escapist before the Internet was even invented. Now that is what I call "l33t".

holy shit guard dogs?

We have a lot of gang violence where I'm from but only 2 breakins, both solved pretty quickly by wracking a shotgun shell into the chamber.

Seriously, you have written my childhood out on paper (well, virtually) and you didn't miss a single detail! For me I had to contend with the flea markets of Durban rather than Joburg, but I also picked up my fair share of "42 in 1" treasures and went fairly mental trying to get home afterwards, dragging my parents along, so that I could ram the cartridge in and see if one or two of the 42 were new ones that I didn't already own! Difference is, I was a Zimbabwean kid, so my trips to Durban were only once a year and very special. Bravo, you've written a fine article and captured the mood and atmosphere perfectly!

My wife grew up just outside of Joburg and even she has horror stories. Getting mugged, carjacked, and robbed was just an accepted part of her life. I wish I could say that the article overstated the violence, but sadly that's not the case.

She's still getting used to 'cold' Christmas. Last year she convinced me to braais in 40 degree weather.

Ayjona:

awes0mepenguin:
though I think you overplayed the violence that goes on here, true there is a lot of crime, but it shouldn't affect you as long as you're careful..

No. He is far from overplaying it. In Even to this day, the violence in South Africa is often random, and fueled by desperation. Back in the mid-90s, in Jo-burg, no amount of carefulness could protect you. Lots and lots of guns could, but either way, someone was injured or killed in the end. Violence goes both ways.

John Szczepaniak:
As I recall it, South Africa was a happy melting pot of Italians, Germans, Greeks, Portuguese, East Europeans, Chinese and local ethnic groups

I am truly glad your childhood memories are good, but there was little that was happy about the ethnic melting pot of late apartheid and early post-apartheid. At least not where the local ethnic groups were concerned.

But very well-written piece. And I've long been curious about the South African gaming community. Thanks for the insight ;-)

Mate, I live in South Africa. The muggings and such only happen when you aren't careful ie: don't walk around at night, don't walk around with your phone visible etc. I've never been mugged, never had the home broken into, and the only member of my family to be mugged was my aunt, and that was in England.

awes0mepenguin:

Mate, I live in South Africa. The muggings and such only happen when you aren't careful ie: don't walk around at night, don't walk around with your phone visible etc. I've never been mugged, never had the home broken into, and the only member of my family to be mugged was my aunt, and that was in England.

South Africa is not the same everywhere. Some places are very safe. Hell the Kruger Park is in SA and we've never had any problems there. But Joburg in the 90ies was the city with the highest murder rate in the world. I would rather have walked around Kruger Park at night with the lions, snakes and skorpions than step outside our house in Johannesburg. I don't know where you live, but in Johannesburg the crime and violence was/is always a reality. You would hear stories in school or from friends about someone having gotten robbed or murdered every couple of months. But also at home the alarm would go off practically every week and you could hear the gunshots from neighbouring Alexandra, as I mentioned.

On the FIRST DAY we arrived in Johannesburg, we witnessed a security man being gunned down. We didn't have a house yet, so we stayed at a Sandton Hotel. We went out to have a look around and sat in a cafe. We heard a shot and on the other side of the plaza a guy was running away and the security man was lying on the ground. Apparently someone had robbed the store there and had been surprised by the security man on his way out.

Once while returning home from a vacation a guy with a gun jumped infront of our car and pointed the gun at us. My father who was driving honked and hit the gas and the man jumped away. That situation could have gone very wrong.

Two or three times in the six years there, people actually managed to get inside our house. That is skary stuff. Especially because of the level of violence that is often applied. There is alot of accumulated hate in SA, and sometimes robbers aren't just happy with taking your wallet.

Definitively, Johannesburg was not the safest place to be, especially in the 90ies.

Tiamat666:

awes0mepenguin:

Mate, I live in South Africa. The muggings and such only happen when you aren't careful ie: don't walk around at night, don't walk around with your phone visible etc. I've never been mugged, never had the home broken into, and the only member of my family to be mugged was my aunt, and that was in England.

South Africa is not the same everywhere. Some places are very safe. Hell the Kruger Park is in SA and we've never had any problems there. But Joburg in the 90ies was the city with the highest murder rate in the world. I would rather have walked around Kruger Park at night with the lions, snakes and skorpions than step outside our house in Johannesburg. I don't know where you live, but in Johannesburg the crime and violence was/is always a reality. You would hear stories in school or from friends about someone having gotten robbed or murdered every couple of months. But also at home the alarm would go off practically every week and you could hear the gunshots from neighbouring Alexandra, as I mentioned.

On the FIRST DAY we arrived in Johannesburg, we witnessed a security man being gunned down. We didn't have a house yet, so we stayed at a Sandton Hotel. We went out to have a look around and sat in a cafe. We heard a shot and on the other side of the plaza a guy was running away and the security man was lying on the ground. Apparently someone had robbed the store there and had been surprised by the security man on his way out.

Once while returning home from a vacation a guy with a gun jumped infront of our car and pointed the gun at us. My father who was driving honked and hit the gas and the man jumped away. That situation could have gone very wrong.

Two or three times in the six years there, people actually managed to get inside our house. That is skary stuff. Especially because of the level of violence that is often applied. There is alot of accumulated hate in SA, and sometimes robbers aren't just happy with taking your wallet.

Definitively, Johannesburg was not the safest place to be, especially in the 90ies.

Okay yeah, should've taken that into account. I live in Durban, which is really safe by comparison to Jo'burg

Looks like I'm the first non-South African resident to post?

Either way, this was an incredibly interesting article to read, and gave me a good insight into foreign Christmases. Kudos! :)

A well written, very interesting article. I really, really liked this.

Wow, I didn't know you were South African too John (I rarely visit Escapist, and when I do, it's usually to answer some of the Quizzes on offer)!

Yeah, it's interesting to see in South Africa how much has happened, but also how little has changed. Crime still exists, but lately it has been on the decline (but not by much though). But then again, I live in Port Elizabeth, so I don't know how much crime has changed in good ole' Joburg.

Good article too.

South Africa sounds like a curious place - a strange melange of culture held together by the ever present threat of violence.

Tiamat666:

John Szczepaniak:
Joined: 31 Dec 1969

Wow, you joined the Escapist before the Internet was even invented. Now that is what I call "l33t".

John has been writing for us since at least Issue 18 of The Escapist, published in 2005. Not quite since before the internet, but close ;)

Tbh Bruma marketplace is almost exactly like you described it still XD
*fondly remembers buying gifts there for everyone a few years back*

I enjoyed this much. This reminds me of growing up in Oakland Ca. China town always had (I thought ironically at the time) games from Japan. And mechs I never heard of, and shit loads of fireworks. I've played imports to this day I wish I could remember the names of. They were really good. Like Super Mario and Mega Man X good. Speaking of which, Mega Man X4. Here I come! again! . . . again!

 

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