My bittersweet adventure in Melville; how a phone-snatching trend ruins all the fun of being named world’s coolest neighborhood

NOWinSA editor Tankiso Komane details how a brief, yet traumatising phone snatching incident in Melville, Johannesburg ruined what would have been an all round, fun adventure - that comes with being named one of the world's coolest neighborhoods - and instead turned it into a bittersweet experience for her.

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Long story shot

FOLLOWING a devastating, prolonged period of hard lockdowns due to Covid-19, I got invited last week (Thursday, October 14) to experience the coming to life of Melville by the Gauteng Tourism Authority (GTA), in the backdrop of having the popular 7th Street officially declared one of the coolest streets in the world in a poll by the globally acclaimed Time Out magazine – thanks to Melville’s vibrant local culture, along with the varied dining-worth eateries, rich history and fun-filled entertainment activities.

As one of SA’s neighborhoods with some of the most attractive scenic attributes, as seen above when we visited 27 Boxes restaurant during the tour, it is important that visitors feel safe when out and about in Melville! Pictured: NOWinSA editor, Tankiso Komane 

Unexpected turn of events:

Ironically, while on a nignt out to celebrate this momentous occasion, an unknown, decent looking male appeared from nowhere as we were standing right at the entrance of Sixties bar & restaurant and grabbed the cellphone out of my hand, making a break into a white, fancy getaway car.

I must say things happened really fast, during what was meant to be a quick break for an interview recording with the board chairperson of  GTA, Judy Nokwedi, who was unfortunately roughed up a bit in the process, given her proximity with my hand-held phone as she was explaining her excitement about the campaign, and most importantly GTA’s plans to introduce measures to support the local tourism sector, and restore travelers’ confidence.

Apart from my teary self, she too was left traumatised and completely irked by the entire incident and the persistence of such in the area, which has not only gone from being just a petty crime to a more organised hit now – with criminals using getaway cars to flee the scene – but also remains one of the biggest threats to the growth of local tourism. 

The recently opened Denil’s & Jo art gallery at 27 Boxes, which houses some of SA’s must-watch art talent, was one of our highlights, yet current crime trends may derail efforts aimed at rejuvenating local tourism such as this.

Painful truth

Although Melville has one of the highest trends of crime in Johannesburg – and there’s an overwhelming evidence that not much is being done by the powers that be to stop this, given the continuous absence of police visibility, worse still there’s no police station in the neighborhood (other than Brixton or Parkhurst SAP, where I met someone whose cellphone was snatched earlier in Melville and was there too to report a theft case) – the ongoing level of complacency around how things have gotten bad in this dangerously busy Jozi street, offers little hope that things will get better anytime soon.

Simply being forced to accept that crime is everywhere, “this is nothing … just go to Parkhurst” as I was told by one of the restaurant’s owners, isn’t good enough either to want to encourage anyone looking to visit Melville to ever do so, and risk not only getting violated in this manner, but also put their lives in danger in the process, all in the name of fun or experiencing a foreign culture.

Sadly, this is a hard to swallow truth about life in this undeniably attractive Western Jozi suburb. But if the lure of taking a stroll in the picturesque alleys of such a trendy, bohemian neighborhood makes it hard for you to resist, unlike us, be ‘extra extra’ careful. Be mindful of every single person walking past you, no matter how descent they may look.

If you can, leave all your valuables behind /at home, including your pricey prescription glasses, if you know what I mean … a fellow journo lost hers while out partying hard in one of our fun-filled escapades on the night. You’ve been warned!