Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi or eGoli has a bad reputation. It’s meant to be dirty, dangerous and chaotic, but I didn’t find it as bad as people say. It’s a huge city with most attractions scattered around so it was a good thing there was a city sightseeing bus like in Cape Town and I used that for the two full days I was there.
I did the full lap of the city and found it interesting to hear about Joburg’s history which I did not know beforehand. It originally sprung up as a mining town when gold was discovered there but there was no plan for it to be a permanent town let alone a city. The gold rush lasted a lot longer and attracted more people than ever imagined which eventually led to the expansion of the town into a city. There is no gold left now, however, the city is still surrounded by the mine dumps left behind from the rush so it’s a very visible history. The city has since turned into one of the biggest in Africa.
I extended the sightseeing bus into a tour to Soweto, which is a famous township on the outskirts of Joburg known for the sight of many protests during the apartheid era and the death of the teenager Hector Pieterson during the uprising in 1976. It has a reputation of being extremely poor and dangerous, but it was really the complete opposite. There is still evidence of the poor lower class, however, a lot of the area is now home to middle class citizens living in government built housing. Our guide was a Soweto resident himself and he said even people who have a good job and earn good money like living in Soweto. People never leave because of the sense of community that is shared there and the low crime rate, in spite of what people think. We went to the memorial for Hector Pieterson, Nelson Mandela’s and Desmond Tutu’s houses and of course the iconic Orlando towers.
It was also interesting to learn that Ghandi had lived in Joburg for about 20 years as a young lawyer. In fact it’s claimed that it was in South Africa that he developed his passion and desire to speak out against racial segregation and inequality. Living in Joburg during apartheid, he was denied access to certain places and certain things such as using an elevator, which inspired him to return home to India to promote democracy and freedom.
I paid a visit to the Apartheid Museum (above) and Constitution Hill which are both important monuments for the country in remembering where it has come from and what it has achieved. The museum was very moving, especially seeing all the images, the wall full of the hundreds of laws that were passed to fulfil the aim of complete separation and oppression of the black population and old remnants such as the ID and working passes that people had to carry. It was also good to see the Constitutional Court, which is a symbol of how far the country has come and the changes it has made towards democracy (although many locals believe there is still a long way to go to achieving full equality and decreasing the rampant corruption that plagues the current government).
It is a modern city and from a distance it looks like Melbourne or Sydney with tall skyscrapers and shopping malls, but driving through the city centre you still know you’re in Africa with the streets lined with stalls selling everything from watches and Nike runners to fruit and vegetables. There are constantly traffic jams with the thousands of white taxi vans that far out-number people. Even though most tourists don’t stick around to avoid the dangers there is still something about the city that makes you smile, it’s not so bad after all.
*post adapted from my trip here in December 2014 and from my original blog site elishasbigtrip.wordpress.com