Johannesburg is a young city, demographically as much as historically. Founded in 1886 on the promise offered by an enormous subterranean gold-bearing reef, the average age of a Johannesburg resident today is 25, which is six years more than the mean age on the African continent. In a geography defined by its youthfulness, style matters – and has mattered for Johannesburg residents for many decades. In a 1945 letter published in The Bantu World, a daily newspaper aimed at black readers, a man identified only as Mr. J.D.N. of Benoni, a mining town east of Johannesburg, described a new vogue for broad-brimmed hats and narrow trousers (known as tsotsi) worn by young urbanites. These young black men, he told, had a fondness for dance halls and skiving, and answered to the “fancy name bo tsotsi”. Study them, advised Mr. J.D.N. of Benoni, “and you’ll get enough information to write a thesis that will excite many universities into honouring you with degrees”. Generations of writers have followed his advice.
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