Much of my (limited) knowledge of South Africa and the city of Johannesburg stemmed from what I had read or seen on screen. As a student of English Literature the likes of J.M Coetzee feature highly on my reading lists and even from a school I remember studying obligatory post-apartheid literature – notably a moving poem called ‘Nothing’s Changed’ that forms part of every sixteen year olds English GCSE course. Having watched Invictus , which tells the story of Nelson Mandela bringing a racially and economically divided nation together through sport, (and admittedly bawled my eyes out) I decided to take the plunge and book that trip to South Africa to see what it was like for myself.
“You’re going to Jo’burg?” My parents said… “BE CAREFUL!” And they weren’t the only ones… Everybody I seemed to tell about my trip had that same worried look on their face as they told me to take care, be vigilant and not to venture out of the city centre. Those of course were the people that hadn’t been to ‘Jozi’, the people who merely relied on horror stories they had heard in the press. Anybody who had been lucky enough to visit the city of Johannesburg for themselves told me that, like in Cape Town, I was going to have a ball and would want to go back again, and again.
Many people use Jo’burg simply as an overnight stopover for visiting other places in South Africa or heading off on safari, but having checked out MyJohannesburgInfo I realised that Jozi really is a destination in its own right so I decided to book 5 days there. I opted to stay in Rutland House Bed and Breakfast as they seemed to offer good value for money, a beautiful swimming pool and breakfast at whatever time I required it. Located between Hyde Park, Rosebank, Randburg and Sandton this was an ideal base for exploring the city.
My days were jam packed with visits to the Montecasino bird gardens, the African craft market, A visit to the Central Business District if Newtown – which culminated in a tour of the South African Breweries World of Beer! Being a student I was determined to check out what student life was like Johannesburg style so I headed down to trendy Melville where I sipped on cocktails at Buzz 9 and chatted to the local students. At the end of my trip I even managed to find time to fit in a round of golf!
Although the city centre of Johannesburg seems to be racially mixed I was determined to catch a glimpse of the real Jo’burg and the real people as I couldn’t help but believe that what I was seeing was merely a facade for a much bleaker picture. I booked an organised tour to Soweto (South Western Township) and went armed with pens, pencils, paper and sweets to give out to the children. In my mind I had (naively) believed that Soweto formed a small part of the city. The reality is that Soweto is an area of 65 square km and home to 3.5million people. According to my guide, Soweto is in a much better position than it was ten years ago but the area is still rundown with matchbox houses and comes in stark contrast to the glistening city centre.
My afternoon in Soweto was a real eye-opener to the apartheid and how, although no longer present, its effects are still felt in modern day South Africa. After chatting to some of the locals and handing out my goodies I ventured to the nearby Hector Peterson Memorial & Museum as well as the Nelson Mandela Museum, both of which were hugely informative and interesting.
Back in the centre of Jo’burg itself I took the opportunity to lunch at a fantastic restaurant called the ‘Butcher Shop & Grill’ in Nelson Mandela Square. I opted for the smoked springbok carpaccio followed by the Oxtail, both of which were perfectly cooked and left me wanting more. The location of this eatery means that after lunch its worthwhile heading to the nearby Lion Park Gauteng which sits somewhere between being a game park and a zoo. I got the chance to cuddle up to some beautiful white lion cubs – an opportunity not to be missed!
Another place on my to-do-list was to visit Constitution Hill, South Africa’s highest court and a former prison where the likes of Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela found themselves imprisoned. As with Soweto, this isn’t necessarily something to do for ‘fun’ but if, like me, you’re interested in the history of South Africa then this is well worth a visit. At the site there is also a wall called the ‘We the people Wall’ which features inspirational contributions from Nelson Mandela and other ex-prisoners to ordinary people across South Africa.
As everybody that had visited previously told me, I left Jozi having fallen head-over-heels in love with the place and the people and desperate to book another trip back. Yes, I did have to be careful and I did have to watch out for my personal belongings… but isn’t this the case with any big city in the world? My trip to Jo’burg offered a little bit of everything – history, culture, fun, good food and great nightlife. I will most definitely be returning and will of course be persuading others to take the plunge and book that trip. Jozi truly is one of a kind.
Today’s guest post was written by Sophie Fraser. Sophie is from London and loves to visit new and exciting places… one day she hopes to travel the world. You can follow her in Twitter @SFraser123
Have you been to South Africa? Did you skip Johannesburg like most people or did take your time to explore the city? Would you spend a few days if you have them? What do you recommend?