Main Road logbooks - St Peter's Square (March 2004)

The St Peter’s Square shopping mall is one of the very worst, sited in the middle of an old Muslim cemetery. Below the SPUR’s neon signage is a memorial garden for all the graves exhumed for the building of this centre (and its generous carpark). In the middle is a black cube five [?] metres across inscribed with the names of those individuals moved from their final resting place; thousand of names, like a war memorial, economical in terms of space, the rock polished and glinting in the sun.

“I often do geopathic clearings on shopping centres, business parks, big developments like that,” my housemate the psychic healer told me, “And you can often sense when you walk into a big mall that something bad happened there. People’s graves were dug up, their land taken away, something like that.”

It’s 4:30 and beyond the scruffy hedges, the traffic on Main Road at this point is reaching critical mass. Cars are brazenly jumping red lights to avoid having to wait while a whole swathe of traffic turns off the freeway and down onto Main. Pedestrians are left stranded on the pavements, trapped on the concrete islands. The minibus taxis are flashing at them and helping one other cut in to lanes, with one holding up all the sedans and angry nurses knocking off from the hospital.

Mall and square are hardly the right terms for this dire place, more like a line of double story shopkeepers with some café wedged into the spaces around the stairwell. THESE TABLES ARE FOR THE CUSTOMERS OF PANAROTTI’s ONLY !!!!! (five exclamation marks). Or GINO’s, CHINO’s, FRATELLIS, GHIRADELLIS, whatever Italian or vaguely Mediterranean catch-all type name is printed on the laminated menus and closed sun umbrellas.

Cavendish Square, Sandton Square - the glossy upmarket malls that aspire to be enlightened spaces where where every sense can be gratified, preferably at the same time - go to great pains to ameliorate the fact that they are nothing tightly policed arenas for relieving the young rich of their surplus cash. Entirely insulated from the outside world - in a nave of escalators and atrium light or a faux-Tuscan courtyard - a certain type of person can for a moment believe they are doing something slightly glamorous in paying R 5000 for a G-string, scarf, cigar, hat, piece of cheese or some other such accessory.

But St Peter’s Square is possibly the most charmless shopping experience ever, the surrender to ugliness in-built with the economy of building materials and space. The café downstairs is closed so the hallway is clogged with a lot of empty tables and stacked chairs. GEEN SMOUSE. The only communal space here is the carpark.

A supermarket has been crammed into a space too small for it, so that customers tread on cleaners’ mops and shelf stackers’ toes. In a forgotten corner upstairs beyond the post office, a WONDERLAND arcade games room is empty but still twinkling. An unused bouncing castle sits indoors at the SPUR looking more like a medical tent for isolating sick children.

There is a terrible kind of melancholy lurking here.  It’s the forced cheerfulness of the signs, the stale punning of the shop names, the gaudiness of the neon against the grey clouds moving over Devil’s Peak. Dead space, dead time, and nobody is fooled.