We are always defined by the places we come from. Actually, those places become defined by all of us, and we again ascribe those definitions to its citizens. It’s all a vicious cycle. Some of these hometowns are harder to pin down on a scale, a method, or a series of criteria. It could be said that Pretoria, our darling town, falls in this uncategorized class.
In so many ways Tshwane has some kind of identity crises. In actuality, the people who come from here undoubtedly is its identity. Many of you know exactly what I mean. To the others, let me explain: As the capital of a country with a deeply disturbing and agonisingly complex history, it had to go from being the hub of social injustice and political oppression, to the seat of new democratic power, and an example of change, after an intensely loaded transition. Through all of this, the city never came to know exactly who, or what, it is. Many people still think of Pretoria as a cosmopolitan version of a staunch white or Afrikaner focal point. Others think of it just as this small city north of Johannesburg. It might be considered as such, but its most definitely neither.
This could be a gross generalization, but Pretoria has always been a place of practicality mixed in with those small doses of needed enjoyment and seeked contentment. We tend to focus on what needs to be done. We keep our heads down, and quietly soldier on. This might come from the fact that we are the administrative capital of South Africa, along with Bloemfontein being judicial and Cape Town being legislative as capital cities to the country. Here we like to get on with our business despite conditions or circumstance. We always attempt our best at work, before blowing off some steam. We know how to take those obligatory breaks to braai and party, but after this, we’ll diligently be on our way again. It has always been thought of as something to be admired. Although, in contemporary life, it could seem conservative and arrogant. Luckily, we have learned to lighten up. In recent decades the capital city has undergone an upturn in cultural experience, a dedication to good food, and an interest in exciting or enlightening activies.
If you have lived in any other city in the world, you might have noticed that Pretoria is a city that functions and feels like a bustling small town. Despite the feeling of everybody knowing everybody in some or other manner, living here seems disconnected to the rest of existence. Although, we are more connected to the rest of our land, and elsewhere, than many other places on earth, by means of infrastructure and technology. The N1 is our much congested spinal column. Tshwane isn’t a melting pot like, say Los Angeles or New York, Cape Town, and Paris, but we have large communities of migrant workers and foreign nationals calling our steadfast 012 their home too. It is as eclectic as the region described above could be.
Coming from Pretoria is like having a metaphysical bumpersticker you wear and bear. Everybody calling this place their original home has this in common. You may be the most unpleasantly cantankerous and obnoxious person on the face of the planet, but if you’re from P-town, you have a community; a societal docking station. It feels like there’s hope for you yet, and it is known that you have people whom you could share with; be it on the other side of the globe. Pretorians attract each other. Our experiences and closeted emotions about our own polis, has in some cases made us bitter or confused, but we’re all part of one compelling and somewhat disengaged ant colony.
Speaking of melting pots. Pretoria has always somewhat stood and existed in the shadow of Johannesburg, and probably always will be thought of as the secondary city of the north. Although, to its inhabitants it is the centre of a universe where all Jacaranda trees, Hadedas, and Sunday morning lawn mowing comes from a familiar place. If you’re from here, you are dead certain there are things you love and hate about this place, but you’re never really sure what they are exactly.
Being from Pretoria means you have to bear the cursed blessing of having a strange amalgamation of both pride and shame about your hometown, its nature, and its past. We all feel a little out of place here at home, but this is what makes you Pretorian, even if you don’t want to be. Welcome, comrade.
by David C. Steyn