The sharing of a meme catapulted a Facebook page into an online community where hundreds of thousands of people from different walks of life come together to share a laugh.
While comic relief might have been the initial reason behind the creation of the Joburger, on social media, this page has achieved something where politicians have somewhat failed to unite the country’s rainbow nation.
Now, South Africans of different races, genders, cities, sexual orientations and social standings have a platform where they can frankly engage in taboo conversation with each other.
Some of the topics include people of different races describing what they love about each other, what makes South African cities unique and different genders giving relationship advice to each other.
The majority of results from these discussions on the Facebook page are so funny that it attracts scores of people who admit they camp on it just to read comments.
“This page has become my morning thing,” one of the followers Chantal Mescht wrote on one of the posts.
“Instead of waking up and reading negative news, I come here and have a thousand laughs, and my heart fills with love. This is humanity at its best.”
Following the success of the Facebook page, the founder and administrator of Joburger Gerhardus Louwrence van Niekerk is now taking his vision of eradicating racism to another level.
He has decided to host an anti-racism event, to be called crudely “Fvck Racism”, in Johannesburg on Freedom Day this year.
He is certain that thousands of people will come together at the event and enjoy the company of others who don’t have the same skin colour or come from a different background.
“I want people from all ages, sizes, races, cultures to have fun,” Van Niekerk said this week.
“I want them to make friends outside of their normal choices of friends.”
The 24-year-old did not have a difficult time deciding on the name of his Facebook page or the city where he wanted to host his event, which is the first of its kind in South Africa.
“It’s called Joburger because that’s where I was raised and I’ve even got the Joburg skyline tattooed on my arm.”
Van Niekerk explained that the page, which garnered 200000 likes in the space of just three years, was founded initially out of pure boredom.
“Joburger started on my couch in 2016. I thought it would be a good way for me to express myself and make myself heard but then it quickly caught traction with one meme.”
When Van Niekerk shared that meme, he never imagined that it would grow his Facebook page into what could now be considered an online community.
“I didn’t know at the time that it would get to the size it is now.”
“All I wanted was to make people smile through funny posts and to create a safe place where people could say what they wanted without being judged.”
“It definitely has gotten to a point which has exceeded all initial expectations. I love how it’s become a safe haven for all ages, religions and cultures.”
The Benoni-born man was born in the mid-1990s, a time where the country was transitioning from apartheid to democracy.
He found this to be a unique time in South Africa’s history and the lessons from his childhood at the time taught him valuable lessons on how to manage a Facebook page where racial issues are one of the central focal points.
“I never grew up in an environment where racism is happily accepted, if you were nice to me, we’d be friends,” he explained.
“I remember, I grew up in Parktown where the neighbour’s domestic helper’s son and I were best friends.
“We would meet everyday after school and mission around on our bikes.”
During most of his life, Van Niekerk lived in South Africa where he later worked in the marketing industry.
He has since relocated to the UK to fulfil his dream of travelling the world.
Although he is not currently in the country, he said he continues to spread positivity about South Africa as well as dispel myths.
This includes one where many people he meets during his travels did not believe he could possibly be South African because they didn’t know there were any white people who lived there.
“That’s happened four times now,” he said.
But he explained that he continues to tell all those he comes into contact with about South Africa’s delicious food, good people, spectacular parties and the beautiful scenery.
But Van Niekerk’s travels has not stopped his quest to fight racism through the Joburger, which he believes has become such a hit it is because it is a reflection of what life in South Africa is really like.
“I think it became so popular because it’s real.
“It’s 100% South African, with just a touch of international flavour.”
He admits that due to the controversial nature of the topics the Facebook pages is acclaimed for, he does seek the advice of those close to him, including his friend Schalk Schoeman, who also assists with the moderation of comments as well as responding to thousands of messages the page receives.
“I post what’s on my mind but I run it by a few people for approval and advice,” Van Niekerk explained.
“I see what the people want to discuss, turn it into a positive or funny question and let the followers run with it.”
Despite many of the Joburgers followers who express their love for the content on the Facebook page, Van Niekerk admits that he does receive a significant amount of hate.
This is particularly when he calls EFF leader Julius Malema out for what he believes is his part in stirring racial tensions in the country.
He has also been recently vocal about controversial Afrikaans singer Steve Hofmeyr who spoke on social media about wanting to bring back the old South African flag.
But Van Niekerk will have none of this and he even took to the Joburger to encourage his followers to not be swayed but those who he believes wants to divide the country.
“The followers work out the negative and toxic people out by themselves,” he said.
“People will realise we are all the same but so different in so many beautiful ways. It’s not the rainbow nation for nothing.
“All the colours and diversity makes the rainbow as beautiful as it is.”
Van Niekerk hopes that the success of the Joburger will be replicated at his event, Fvck Racism, which is expected to be held on April 27 at the Zoo Lake Bowling Club.
He explained that here, attendees of all races can come together and participate in different activities together which are intended to be a way to bond.
There will also be music and the chance for everyone to enjoy a meal together.
“The event will be a success regardless of the amount of people who’ll show up.
“If I can change just five people’s view on other cultures in a positive way, the event will be a major success.”
Van Niekerk adds that there will be more of these kinds of anti-racism events around the country in the next months.
In the interim, he believes everyone can play a part in the eradication of racism in the country.
“You can never just tell someone to not be racist, you need to show to them why racism is wrong.”
“If I can get 50 people to see the way I see and they go and spread it, racism will slowly come to an all time low,” said van Niekerk.
Racing to unDerstand ourselves
Benoni-born Gerhardus Louwrence van Niekerk started the Facebook phenomenon “Joburger” from his couch in 2016. In three short years, he managed to grow it to an impressive over 200000 following.
The idea behind Joburger is to spread positivity, particularly around the racial narrative in South Africa.
Van Niekerk told The Saturday Star that the topics around race garner the most reaction and comments from those who visit the Facebook page and engage in the conversation.
These topics are often around different races asking each other questions they have always wanted to know or telling each race what they love about each other.
Here are some of the most popular comments from these posts.
Joburger: All races What is it about black people that you love
1. They are just naturally-born survivors and make things happen no matter what.
2. They value education and many of them put their children through varsity and good schools regardless of the little salary they earn.
3. Their support for one another during funerals and weddings.
4. Damn their love for music and those dancing moves.
5. Sense of fashion.
Anneke Janse van Rensburg:
Their ability to know which taxi goes where.
Your commitment to your culture and beliefs. Although it differs greatly from mine, I admire it. Also your ability to sing. I love it when our nanny walks around the house humming or singing to my boy. It brings a sense of calm to our house. It’s truly beautiful.
Joburger: All races What is it about white people that you love
In the office you’re so professional. Take your work so seriously and got no time to gossip about your colleagues and always mind your own business.
Wonderful manners. Don’t care about clothing labels. Very responsible and wise money spenders.
Ka’bz Karabo Thelele:
I want to say something good but when I think of the aircon, eish.
Pretty Thembi Mahlangu-Mnguni:
I love how they still walk around holding hands even after 50 years of being married.
I like their “Be rich but look simple” approach.
Joburger: All races What is it about coloured people that you love
I love how Tupperware is worth more than gold.
Dinah Mosome Makhubalo:
They are the best R&B music compilers of note... Whenever I get into a taxi driven by a coloured oke, neh, and he’s playing such great music I feel like asking him if I can organise a memory stick so he can dala for me.
I love the sense of community and how they stand up for themselves.
Buhle Santiago Mafani:
The passion behind the way they say “Voetsek”.!
Here are some other popular posts:
Joburger: Ask Joburgers something you’ve always wanted to know:
Is it true that Alexandra rats eat cats, change tyres and hijack cars?
Rosebud Emmerencia Buthelezi:
Is it true that in Joburg CBD you hide your phone under your tongue because of the mugging.
Why are you always in a hurry... What’s chasing you?
Joburger: Ask Durbanites something you’ve always wanted to know:
On behalf of my Durban black people: gold/silver teeth are to us what a tattoo is to white people. The reason we prefer gold teeth is because they are easily removable unlike a tattoo. We were told when you have these things you don’t go to heaven.
Amandla Amish Mini:
Please tell me how to make a good bunny chow, and is it true there is a big city with shops operating 24 hours. People from my hood come there for buying stuff for selling, even my granny brought me Inkomazi.
Lee-Anne Wagner Lekay:
Not a question really, more a statement: you guys have the best cuisine and are the friendliest province, hands down.