We arrived in Johannesburg a bit later than we anticipated. We were picked up by two girls from the Airport who whisked us through security, customs, to the priority baggage carousel, and right past all the people who were having their luggage x-rayed. We were outside as fast as we could walk, and our driver was there within minutes. He was chatty and we had a nice ride to our hotel, The Saxon, which is in the north part of the city. We had dinner reservations somewhere, but decided that we would rather stay at the hotel. It was the right decision. We had a lovely dinner sitting outside by the pool.
The hotel is in the swankiest residential area I have ever seen. It was originally a private home, but a huge private home, with extensive gardens. All the homes in this area are on large lots, and I mean large. Like a square block. Hard to see most of the homes as they all have high solid fences with security guards at the entrances and electric fences on top. For some silly reason I had expected Johannesburg to be flat, but it is anything but. The Saxon looks over the gardens to the city in the distance.
The World Cup, held here recently, has made a huge difference to Johannesburg. Also in the north of the city, a huge new financial centre is taking shape. There are many new beautiful buildings already occupied by large multinational companies, and many more in various states of construction. The roads were all redone, so are in great shape. A new transportation system was put in place.
We were picked up the following morning by CeyCey – not his real name, that is unpronounceable by us, and includes a couple really decisive clicks. We drove through the city, through the new financial centre, with lovely outdoor malls, restaurant areas and shops, and through New Town, which used to be the centre. New Town is now pretty seedy, and contains some areas where it would not be a good idea to walk. Many of the buildings have been empty for 10 or more years. There is a move afoot to revitalize the area, and there are a few streets and area where small businesses, galleries, restaurants and cafes have moved in. CeyCey felt that the area could become vibrant once again, but it would not happen overnight.
We drove over to Soweto. CeyCey is from here. We entered the area – South West Township – in the high end residential area. Pretty nice houses and gardens. This is where the rich Soweto’s live. Other areas are also quite nice, but on smaller lots. You can do anything you like on your own property, and many owners have built small tin “shacks” which they rent out for a small amount. So not much of a garden left there, and of course there are shared bathroom facilities. The wires that spread out everywhere also point to “shared” electricity.
There are other areas in Soweto as well. These are the tiny tin shacks that the new arrivals live in. the government is building more accommodation, but cannot possibly keep up, even if there was a will to do so. Many of the smaller shacks on the periphery share a “bucket” toilet, and a water tap.
We had been concerned that our visit to Soweto would not be well received by the residents, but CeyCey said he would address that question later. And he did when we headed to the tourist area – Desmond Tutu’s house, Nelson Mandela’s house, and the nearby museum. Here many restaurants have opened, there are lots of small shops, and people selling goods on the street Soweto is the most popular tourist attraction in South Africa. As we walked around, people smiled and said hello. We had a great lunch in Soweto, in a small restaurant (to avoid the large tour groups that arrived by bus) on the second floor overlooking all the action.
The Apartheid Museum is really well done, but a little upsetting. It did a good job of explaining the history behind Apartheid itself.
Since we have been here, there has been a new President. The talk recently, other than about the Guptas, has been about the decision to allow land expropriation without compensation, but with the qualification that it cannot impact negatively on food production and food security in the country. No one, especially me, seems to know what exactly that means. Everyone says, no it will not be like Zimbabwe, but we will have to wait and see.
The hotel is truly lovely, our room beautiful, the food fabulous. But, I felt a “sense of entitlement” in the other guests when we had dinner at Luke Dale Robert’s X restaurant in the hotel. The hotel staff was very professional, but the blacks too deferential for me to feel comfortable. I had the feeling that the others just took that for granted and that made me feel uncomfortable. All but 2 of the customers were white and all of the servers were black.
I had decided that Johannesburg had been given a bad rap – but the news clearly disagrees. Most of the news that I have seen recently has been bad about this city