Interesting things about Johannesburg in no particular order
The problem is that I have started it several times and I just find it so boring.
For both our sakes, I decided to bullet point the really interesting stuff. In no particular order, here is some of what I discovered in Johannesburg:
- To the locals, Johannesburg is known as ‘Gauteng’ (meaning ‘City of Gold’) or ‘Josie’.
- Soweto (which is an extended acronym for ‘South West Township) is not as poverty-stricken as you might expect . Of the 2.5 million inhabitants, most of them live in houses that are not much worse than Australian housing commission homes. I am not saying it’s great by any stretch of the imagination – most of the dwellings have tin roofs and dirt floors – but what I am saying is that it’s not a shanty town.
- Johannesburg does have shanty towns – they are on the other side of the city to Soweto. I heard white South African people complaining that, ‘Anything that’s not nailed down, gets stolen,’ (case in point: telephone poles and wires) but that’s all shanty town residents have to build shelter with. Imagine hectares of cobbled together iron sheeting, concrete and wire with dirt paths running between the shacks like red soil veins. At the entrance to each artery, there is a telephone centre built in a shipping container and a sprawling butchery-cum-BBQ where offal is grilled and sold cheap. That is what a real South African shanty town looks like.
- Most people living in poverty in Johannesburg die from the cold during winter. That was one the saddest things I have ever heard. Think about how many spare blankets you have in your house.
- On a happier note, everyone in Johannesburg is really, really, really excited about the World Cup in June. I hope South Africa win – they are overdue for some big happiness.
- The Apartheid Museum is an architectural and educational marvel. I learnt more about South Africa’s history in the three hours I spent there than in 30 years of paying attention. What struck me most was the Nelson Mandela exhibition; specifically the Truth and Reconciliation Act that he introduced when he came to power. Instead of prosecuting the people who committed hate crimes (state-enforced or otherwise), he legislated that all guilty parties be given the opportunity to publicly confess and for their victims to publicly forgive them. That is the singlemost enlightened political move I have ever heard of.
- South Africans eat a lot of red meat and mealie meal (called ‘pup’) which looks exactly like mashed potato and tastes like Clag glue.
- The landscape looks a lot like the Northern Territory; red dirt, rocky terrain, dry grasslands which to my mind, totally supports the Pangaea theory.
- A major highlight of my time in Josie was getting the opportunity to hold a lion cub at a place called the Rhino & Lion Reserve , located about 30 minutes from Johannesburg. I also got to play with Serval kittens, got really close to the big lion daddies, saw cheetahs, rhinos, flamingoes, white lions, hippos, zebras, heaps of different antelope, vultures, leopards, blue wildebeests … the list goes on. This was a great place to get acquainted with African wildlife because for the rest of the trip, the animals I saw were in the wild (i.e. hidden by bushes, far away and shy around noisy tourists).
- Kate and I stayed at a place called Amadwala Lodge , a mostly tranquil oasis out in Honeydew. Yes, there is the odd gunshot at night and the occasional loud party in the distance but the food is good, the owners are helpful and there’s a bar right next to the pool; an unexpected luxury.
Have you been to Josie? What did you think?
Read more about my African adventures here