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Profile: Meet Uncle Fats

Uncle Fats by S:P:S
Uncle Fats, a photo by S:P:S on Flickr.

Uncle Fats, a name not completely deserved but the only one that he wished to give, is one of those rare breeds that believes in Hillbrow. Not delusional about the area mind you, he just thinks that things are getting better. Coming from someone who is there daily, and running a business, you have to be inclined to believe him, but I had to check this out myself.

I went to go visit him in his movie theatre, Goodhope Hillbrow, just off the infamous Twist Street. A sharp turn left onto Kotze Street and luckily I had a parking spot conveniently placed between a garbage dumpster and a very large 4X4. Hidden you might say. It took me a moment to see the sign for the theatre between the spaza shops, hair salons, and street traders.

The stairs to his theatre are wide and the fading red carpet is reminiscent of the heyday theatre days when a night out to the movies called for fine clothes and an official date. A vintage circa 1920 movie projector is on display in the middle of the foyer, just in front of the snack counter. Uncle Fats sees me from behind the counter and offers me a hearty hello while he attends to some customers.

It is just before 14:00, the first show of the day and people are steadily flowing in. The price is right at R8 for two movies, a matinee. Fats has been in this place for almost nine years, enough time to know how fortunate they are not to have had an incident in the theatre in an area with ‘a lot of crime’. But he does point me to a dark corner of the foyer where the entrance to his third theatre is and complains that the cabling for the building was stolen not too long ago.

He says ‘things are cleaning up now’ even though the ‘glamour of it all is gone’.

“The people keep coming back. We help keep the people off the streets and doing other rubbish”, he says, clearly proud that he is providing such an important service as he hands another customer a bag of popcorn, and they turn to enter theatre number two showing both Prometheus and The Avengers.

People around here are, “Mostly black and coloured folk…a few white,” he says, himself of Indian decent. This does add to the allure of Hillbrow today, a ripple from the days when it was the centre of Johannesburg’s night life. As long as people like Uncle Fats continue to invest and stick out the bad times, like Fats says, “It just might keep getting better and better”.

#Joziskeem #innercityjoburg

Originally part of my Jozi Skeem column for The New Age.

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