Known by many primarily by its shocking violent crime rates, Johannesburg makes nearly every top “dangerous cities in the world” list and suffers from a notorious image problem.
And there is some truth in this, just read any travel advice and the message would make you think that going anywhere in the vicinity of the place is gambling with your life.
I noticed that all houses in the richer areas were all gated, all had stickers warning of armed response etc. It seems a city within a city.
However Johannesburg is an economic powerhouse of South Africa and the region, so it can’t be devoid of any positive aspect and it isn’t.
However, the way you enter Johannesburg may confirm or challenge your first impressions.
Arrive by train from Cape Town and take a taxi and the city will seem to be edgy, dusty compared to the beauty of Cape Town.
The poverty more apparent and the walls littered with phone numbers of many self-acclaimed so-called ‘prophets’.
Arrive by air (as I did in my first instance) and you will find OR Tambo airport to be clean and reasonably well organised. A bit smaller than I expected and a lot less chaotic (given my preconceptions of Johannesburg).
Rudolph and Ai-Ting came to the airport and picked up Jinhee and myself.
Ai-Ting being a friend from my University days.
We had just completed the long flight from San Francisco to Johannesburg.
As they drove us at night along the motorway the lighting and rain were tremendous.
If there is one reason above that I wouldn’t want to be here is the lightning.
It is simply far more dramatic and seems so much more powerful than anything I have seemed in the UK and apparently, that kind of lightning is not usual.
Rudolph and Ai Ting took us to a casino… Not to gamble though none of us would be that way inclined but to eat.
There were a number of self-service restaurants and choice of food.
We stayed by Rudolph and Ai-Ting in the first part our first stay in Johannesburg.
Ai-Ting showed us the Botanical gardens in Johannesburg, which is a very beautiful place.
There were a wedding couple there and it is the ideal place for couples, wedding, and students, just to relax and there are places with nice view points.
Rudolph and Ai-Ting were due to go to Taiwan for their trip and they organised for us to stay by a friend of hers Lily.
We all went to the airport to see Rudolph and Lily off. On the way, there was some concern that they will be stopped by the police. Apparently illegal immigration from China is seen as a problem. We were not stopped, however.
Lily and her family were also very kind and Lily showed us Gold Reef City, a kid of amusement park with a tour of a gold mine.
Part of the mine is still in use. The tour itself is worth seeing.
The amusement park was fine (I read some negative comparisons to Disneyland but the theme park is actually quite pleasant. It is not Disneyland but if someone wants Disneyland then they should go to one of those places).
Lily also showed us around China Town (Johannesburg has one too and while it seemed less busy it did seem like a nice place).
After a few days, Jinhee and I flew on to Zimbabwe before returning to Johannesburg for a few days before going on to Cape Town and gain on the way to Maputo.
We stayed in a guest house (whose name I can’t remember).
They had many leaflets of organised tours but when we asked if there was a phone to call they offered their own tour.
If this sounds like a scam it wasn’t so bad. We took them on an offer to visit Soweto.
Visiting any township must be done on a tour. Soweto is probably the safest of the townships but generally going alone is a dangerous and foolish business.
Townships are often a result of the former South Africa’s apartheid policy that separated where you lived, where you could eat etc according to race.
Supposedly separate but equal it was clearly separate and most definitely not equal.
Soweto is famous for the distinction of having two Nobel Prize winners from the same street!
Any guesses anybody? Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who both lived on Vilakazi Street.
In Soweto, we visited Nelson Mandela’s former house, passed the house of Willie Mandela (apparently she avoids the media these days), visited some community centre and museum and ate at Wandies.
Wandies was once an illegal shebeen (drinking place) enjoyed by Black South Africans, it grew into a restaurant patronised by the famous.
Touristy…a bit but the food was nice and everything inside is of good taste. There is a great section of traditional food.
Soweto was famous in the 70’s for its uprising.
Where black South Africans rose to stand up against the injustices of the apartheid government> many dying in the process.
There is the Hector Pietersen Museum. Hector Pietersen was murdered, shot down by police when they started firing on demonstrators. He was a 12-year-old boy.
In a picture so famous, another boy 19 is seen carrying him, with Hectors sister aside to an ambulance.
The Soweto uprising was caused when the Apartheid government tried to make instruction in Afrikaans mandatory locally. The language was seen as being the language of the oppressors by black South Africans and so the move was met with great resistance.
Over 20,000 students took part, and 176 died.
Johannesburg has its trouble past and present but does have enough to see to make any stopover worthwhile.