To Johannesburg with an open mind
A few words about South Africa
I guess most people know where South Africa is located…after all it is in the name :-) The Republic of South Africa has a population of about 45 million and about 3 million of them live in Joburg. Before I got to know South Africa through Nikki I guess I only knew the basics which can be summarized in keywords such as apartheid, Nelson Mandela, gold and diamonds.
The new flag was introduced after the free elections in 1994. The red, white and blue colours were taken from the colours of the Boer Republics while the yellow, black and green are taken from the African National Congress (ANC) flag where the black symbolizes the people, green the fertility of the land, and the yellow the mineral wealth in the form of gold.
The currency in South Africa is Rand and most of the prices in this trip report with be listed in this currency. There is a lot more practical information on the Internet. Here is one page I found.
We got on board the SAA flight at about 9 and it was a fairly new Airbus plane (A340-600 maybe). I was of course looking forward to trying the in flight entertainment that I never got to try when I was fly Continental to the USA this summer. But it turned out that I would be disappointed once again. Our little TV screen did not work at all during our 10 hour flight to Joburg…and I have trouble sleeping on board planes so it was a boring flight. But I was quite impressed with SAA in general. They seemed to listen to us when we were unhappy when the TV wasn’t working, the food was pretty good and the service was good.
We arrived the following morning in Joburg and we were met by lovely weather and about 27 degrees Celsius. The arrivals part of the airport has not changed much since I went to South Africa for the first time in 1997. Nikki’s family came to pick us up at the airport so we didn’t have to worry about getting a taxi. Coming to Joburg is not a big culture shock...at least not to start with. When I came to Joburg the first time I just reminded me of a typical big city with high rise buildings and big freeways.
Stuff to see
When we got there we thought the place was closed because there was only one car in the parking lot and it was a public holiday. We got a great tour of the area with a guy called David. He took us through the history of the prison with his great knowledge and he could tell us a lot about the past but also about the complex today. We started looking at the old fort entrance and the barrier that is built around the fort and we were told how the prisoners were treated when they first arrived. We were taken through the old cells where we could look at sleeping arrangements, isolation cells and there were also small rooms with TV’s where we could here stories told by people that were kept in the prison. The tour ended in the Constitutional court itself.
But the main thing in this complex is the symbolism. Part of the prison (known as the Awaiting Trial Block) was torn down to make room for the court itself. In order to show that the injustice of the past can be a part of the justice for the future, the bricks have been re-used in the new court house. The stairwells to the building have been preserved and two are even incorporated in the court building itself. The Constitutional Court is also a building full of symbolism. The logo itself shows people in shelter under a tree discussing and it represent the past way of doing things. This can also be seen in the lobby of the court house where pillars are skew to represent the tree trunks and natural light comes in through the ceiling and the lights are formed like leaves. The door into the court itself is a 9 meter timber door and 27 human rights are carved into the wood.
It might sound boring to see a prison and a court house but I learned a lot from it. The fact that this place of terror only shut down about 20 years ago makes it frightening. I think that it was amazing to see how they have used symbolism to bring the past with them in order to prevent that stuff like this happens again. Please visit the website www.constitutionhill.co.za to get more info on how to get there etc. If you go there make sure to get a guide!
But the highlight for me in the park was the underground tour. We had to pay an extra 50 Rand per person for this but hey, it is not every day you get to go down in a real gold mine :-) This is no. 14 shaft of Crown Mines but it was actually the 13th shaft according to our guide but they skipped this number due to superstition. After getting a helmet and torch (with a big battery pack) we were lowered down to 220 meters below ground level and we got a short and hectic tour of the first level of this mine that stretched down to a staggering 3293 meters (about 10000 ft). The mine itself was shut down in 1977 and at the time they only produced 4 grams of gold per ton of rock that was mined. It is amazing to be able to get to go down in a real mine and get an impression of what the working conditions were like. There is a pretty good description of the underground tour on this page. We also went to see the gold pouring but due to bad luck the show had to be cancelled due to electrical problems. According to what I have read you get to see 12.5 kg of gold being poured and made into a gold bar. And they say you can take it home if you can pick it up with one hand on the first try…well, I was looking forward to bringing that gold home! :-) Check out their website on www.goldreefcity.co.za for more information and directions. The park is worth a visit and you can have fun and learn a bit about the Joburg and mining history at the same time :-)
The museum didn’t look that big when we arrived but you need some time to go through the museum. We got there a bit late and before we knew it, it was 5 pm and we got “kicked out” of the place. You probably need 2-3 hours to go through the museum. I think we paid 25 Rand per person to get into the museum. Some of the videos in the museum showed the Soweto uprising and how the police went about to control the situation. I guess when you see how brutal the police were in some situations it is easy to understand that the police still have a bit of a bad reputation in South Africa. And I guess it also shows that it will take some time for the wounds to heal and for the country to move on. The museum web page on www.apartheidmuseum.org contains more information on the exhibitions, the history, other places of interest etc.
We needed something to eat so we stopped by one of the most popular places for tourist in Soweto: Wandies Place. The restaurant was packed when we came there but they managed to squeeze us in but the service was pretty slow because there were so many guests. They mainly serve a buffet and I think that it cost us 50 Rand per person for the meal (excluding dessert). On the buffet there were different dishes of chicken, lamb, beef and curry varieties. There were also some “typical” South African dishes on the menu such as pap which is like the rice part of a meal and it is some sort of cornmeal porridge. When I came into the buffet I was met by an unusual smell – at first I though something had gone off. But it turned out to be something called ‘mala mogodu’ or tripe – boiled and seared sheep intestines and/or stomach. My sensitive nose felt a bit assaulted but the tripe didn’t taste all that bad – not one of the worst sheep parts one can eat :-)
We continued our tour in Soweto by stopping by the corner where Hector Pieterson was shot dead by the police on June 16th 1976. He took part in a demonstration against the introduction of Afrikaans as a language in the black schools. Hector was only 12 years old. We also stopped by Hector Pieterson museum and it only cost 10 Rand to enter. In the museum you will find information about the events leading to June 16th and the uprising that followed. You will find quite a lot of information on this page. The museum was not that big and I found the Apartheid Museum more interesting. When we drove into Soweto the weather was great but at the museum we were surprised by an earsplitting hail storm. Fortunately, it wasn’t the big windscreen cracking type.
We also stopped by Nelson Mandela’s first house in Orlando West in Soweto. The humble house was Mandela’s home from 1946 and it is a tiny place. I think that we had to pay 20 Rand per person to get in and we got a short 2 minute tour of the place. Yes, it is an intimate meeting with the home of a great leader but there is not much to see. And if you compare the entrance fee to other attractions that we went to I’m almost tempted to call it a overcharge. I would say that it is not worth a visit. There is a bit of information about his old house on this page.
What surprised me about Soweto was the fact that there were all sorts of houses there. They ranged from typical suburban houses to squatter camp shanties and everything in between. Looking out over the large area that the squatter camp covered has a tendency to put things into perspective. I hope that many of my fellow Norwegians get to travel the world so that we can realize how fortunate we are. I regret not that I didn’t take more pictures in Soweto itself. It would have been great to have some shots of the every day life in this township.
humankind and Rhino & Lion Nature reserve
From Sterkfontein we drove to Rhino & Lion Nature reserve. At the entrance we paid to get into the Rhino and Lion reserve and to get a tour of a place called Wondercave. This cave belongs to the same system of caves as the Sterkfontein cave but was quite different. Before the tour we relaxed at the little café on the site and we were kept company by an ostrich and a couple of wild boars :-) The tour started by descending quite a few steep steps (45 degree steep) and then we took an elevator down to about 60 meters below the surface. In the enormous cave there were beautiful examples of both stalagmites and stalactites. Some of them were humongous and weighed up to 40 tons according to our guide. The cave was pretty dark and it was hard to take good pictures. It was kept dark to keep the environment as natural as possible.
After the visit to the cave we drove around in our car in the nature reserve. The dirt roads were bumpy and most cars were in for a challenge. But we did manage to get pretty close to lions, wild dogs, a cheetah, a couple of rhinos etc. It is pretty amazing to get this close to the animals in your own car. I wonder if there are any "accidents" in parks like this. After all there are a few daring tourists out there and there were no supervision :-) There is also one area in the park where you can find tigers, lions, crocodiles and hippos in more confined areas. They also have a place where you can take a closer look at vultures. You will find more information on their homepage www.rhinolion.co.za
African National Museum of Military History
Apart from information we also found a lot of military hardware. I was surprised to find lots of planes including old planes like German Messerschmitt, British Spitfire and even one of the first jet planes that the Germans developed during World War 2. Outside there were more modern jet planes on display. There were also an impressive collection of tanks, canons, small arms, decorations, uniforms etc. I enjoyed the visit to the museum and for that price it was a bargain. It is a bit sad to admit it but it is quite interesting to see how much effort man has put into building stuff to be able to kill each other. If you are into history and military hardware I would recommend a visit to this museum.
When I came there the first time I was a bit surprised by a few words. Nikki kept on saying “turn right at the robots” when she was giving me driving instructions. Well, I didn’t really see that many robots in the streets :-) But robots is the word for traffic lights. When I talked to Nikki’s family and telling them things they kept on saying “izzit?” (like in “is it?”). Well, my natural response was of course to confirm by saying “Yes” but later on I realized that the “izzit” is just a phrase being used when you listen to someone tell a story and I guess it can be translated into “really?” There is also the expression “howzit” which is more or less like “Hi, how are you?”
I also kept on asking for ketchup and got pretty blank faces. In this part of the world we’re only talking about “tomato sauce”. Talking about food: one of the South African past times is barbecuing - known as ‘braai’. One of the best things to braai is a boerewors - an excellent meat sausage (mixed with herbs & spices). There are many websites that are dealing with this issue and here is a link to one of them.
around in Joburg
If you do drive around Joburg have a map reader that can help you out with all the signs along the route. Be aware that there will be some street vendors and beggars on some intersections around town and some intersections are even marked with signs saying “Hijack Hotspot” (a new feature that even locals are not quite used to). Some roads are not that well lit so keep an eye out for people walking along the road. I think that a lot of lives could have been saved if people starting wearing reflector chips like we do here in Norway :-)
Talking about food…the South Africans love to braai. We brought along some food and some cold drinks and went to a park called Zoo Lake after we had been to the Military museum. In the park we paid a few bucks (Rands) to borrow a braai stand (half an oil barrel on a stand with a grill rack over it) and we fired it up and put chicken, chops and boerewors on it. This is a great place to take the family to relax, braai and enjoy a cold beer. Most people bring a football or frisbee to kill time – we had to deal with a 10 year old on a quad bike. After some bickering the family finally understood that quad bike riding was not allowed in the park. The area seems well kept although swimming is not allowed and the toilets are, after all, public toilets.
There is a 14% VAT on stuff that you buy in South Africa and you can get this refunded if the amount exceeds ZAR 250. But to get the money back you have to keep the receipt and you have to present the goods that you have bought at the airport when leaving. You can also get this done at Sandton City to avoid queues at the airport.
Please continue to page 2 and read more about our safari Djuma Game Reserve located in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve near the Kruger Park.