Saturday, June 8, 2013

Johannesburg City

All I can say is that Johannesburg will not be voted one of the top cities in the world to visit - until now I had yet to feel unsafe in my travels. We arrived back in Johannesburg after the safari and Mag's friend Cassie picked us up to take us back to her place for a couple of days. Mag met Cassie in Ireland as she travels there several times a year (however Mag does not know her well and just assumed she would live in a safe urban area of Johannesburg). Well you know what they say about assuming (Ass out of U and Me).

The first thing we noticed on the drive to Cassie's house was the amount of pollution. The factories are just pumping out pollution, you can actually taste it in your mouth and there is a grey haze over the City, makes LA look like paradise. The next thing to notice are signs 'hotspot for carjacking'. Nice to be informed - I would have got a picture of the sign but I was too busy locking my door and making sure my backpack was not in sight. Apparently at night you do not come to a complete stop at these intersections.

We arrived to Cassie's neighborhood and immediately realized we were the only white folk in sight. Lots of people hanging around and garbage everywhere. Cassie lives in a council house that was originally built for whites but since the end of apartheid has been taken over by blacks and has become very run down, something like the project housing in the USA. Cassie must lock her car in the back yard compound each night or she most likely will only have a few car parts left in the morning.

View from front porch - notice only one car in parking lot
Compound for car
Pollution only looks like clouds

Cassie was an extremely welcoming host giving up her bedroom and daughter's bedroom for us. The next day as we were leaving to go explore the city there were 5 police cars outside the house - Cassie said 'small announcement' not to worry they are just busting the local drug dealer, who will pay off the police to go away! Apparently there are 70,000 police officers in Johannesburg - after apartheid the white police force was made redundent and replaced with black inexperienced and poorly paid officers, so if you get stopped for a driving infraction offer the officer a few 100 rand and the offense disappears.

As we drove around the corner from Cassie's house she pointed out the local hotel which is now the local whorehouse - are you getting the picture of this neighborhood! Basically Mag and I did not go outside the house except to get in the car. Cassie's house is one stream of people coming and going - she says her house gets broken into often when she leaves - hence I carry my passport, money, credit cards and iPad with me at all times and hope we are not carjacked. All of her family were very welcoming and we were introduced at auntie Lorna and auntie Mag - a term of respect for elders.

The first area Cassie took us to was the downtown Hillbrow which is an inner city residential neighbourhood of Johannesburg. It is known for its high levels of population density, unemployment, poverty and crime - lock the car doors! Cassie said we would not make it walking one block in this area without being mugged! Apparently they will not hurt tourist just mug them!

In the 1970s Hillbrow was an Apartheid-designated 'whites only' area but soon became a 'grey area', where people of different ethnicities lived together. It acquired a cosmopolitan and politically progressive feel, it was one of the first identifiable gay and lesbian areas in urban South Africa, but due to poor planning its infrastructure could not cope with the rapid population growth. This, together with lack of investment led to an exodus of middle class residents in the 1980s and the decay of major buildings, leaving in its wake an urban slum by the 1990s.

Today, the majority of the residents are migrants from the townships, rural areas and the rest of Africa, many living in abject poverty. An urban regeneration programme is underway. There are street markets, mainly used by local residents. I did not chance taking photos in this area. There seems to be a massive drug problem and aides is still a top concern here - Cassie has lost two members of her family to aides and she says that is not unusual. She took us past the hospital for aides babies - her sister and workmates go once a week to hold and cuddle these babies.

The only picture I dare take in this area
Shopping in Muslim area - much safer

The next area we visited was Soweto bordering the city's mining belt in the south. Its name is an English abbreviation for South Western Townships. Formerly a separate municipality, it is now incorporated in the City of Johannesburg.

Former water towers outside Soweto - now with painted murals and used for bungy jumping

Cassie and Mag

The history of African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities. Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that were established after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg. In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents to an "evacuation camp" at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague.

Power lines outside Soweto - a number of people steal the power from these lines - lines are often on the ground and frequently children are injured by live wires

The Soweto Uprising, also known as June 16, is a series of protests led by high school students inSouth Africa that began on the morning of 16 June 1976. Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. An estimated 20,000 students took part in the protests. The number of people who died is usually given as 176, with estimates of up to 700. June 16 is now a public holiday, Youth Day, in South Africa, in remembrance of the events of 1976.

Soweto market

Black high school students in Soweto protested against the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974, which forced all black schools to use Afrikaans and English in a 50-50 mix as languages of instruction.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the system began to show distinct signs of wear and tear. Influenced by many events such as the death throes of colonialism in Africa, the rise of ‘Black Power’ in the USA and a growing worldwide antagonism towards Apartheid, Africans began to fight back.

The association of Afrikaans with apartheid prompted black South Africans to preferEnglish. In addition, English was gaining prominence as the language most often used in commerce and industry. The 1974 decree was intended to forcibly reverse the decline of Afrikaans among black Africans. The Afrikaner-dominated government used the clause of the 1909 Union of South Africa Act that recognized only English and Dutch as official languages as pretext to do so. While all schools had to provide instruction in both Afrikaans and English as languages, white students learned other subjects in their home language.

First we visited the museum in Soweto and then the market. The sellers in the market were great and we had a lot of fun bartering with them. As we drove through this area I could not help but be impressed with the cleanliness of the area however modest the housing. We felt very safe in this area as the people seem very proud of their community, it seems this is a good example of when you work hard for something you really do appreciate and take care of it.

Outside Mandela museum in Soweto
Highway view of Soweto
Soweto township


Kliptown is a suburb of the black township of Soweto located about 17 km south-west of Johannesburg. Kliptown is the oldest residential district of Soweto, and was first laid out in 1891. From 1903 the area was home to informal settlements (squatter camps), and the area now contains a mixture of purpose-built housing and a large number of shacks and other informal homes.

In 2005 Kliptown had an unemployment rate of 72%. In that same year Johannesburg City Council announced plans for renewal of the Kliptown area, including a large-scale housing project. 8 years later I see no sign of any housing project. It was late afternoon on the verge of dust when Cassie took us through this area. Dirt roads full of pot holes, no sewer, no electricity, no running water just thousands of people living in the most appalling conditions (apparently the president of SA just visited this township last week). There are large groups of youth everywhere all eyes on the white tourist! One child threw a rock at the car and Cassie backed up, rolled down her window and started yelling at the child in South African. Mag and I were pale with fear as there was no where to go if the people surrounding the car turned on us. In the end the mother of the child apologized and the group went about their business. Cassie says you must be tough here and stand up for yourself - you cannot show weakness - I said "perhaps it is time to go home now" - back to the projects where we can lock the doors!



Not all areas of Johannesburg are slums. Cassie took us to a very upscale area where the homes are over the top, however these people live behind gates, bars and security systems. In fact they have someone from their security company meet them at their homes while they wait for their garage doors to open to avoid being carjacked.





There is also a beautiful casino and hotel complex that is designed like the Las Vegas casinos except this one is behind walls and lots of is called the emperors palace!



It is evident in the past Johannesburg was a beautiful city, but now it has so many problems from corruption of government and police officials, aides, drugs, immigrants from other African countries bringing their problems here, not to mention low pay, lack of housing and a rapidly increasing population as well as a deteriorating infrastructure - this city needs some serious attention and planning.


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