I’m a Capetonian. I’ve never lived anywhere else, except for those three years in Grahamstown that turned me into a socialist (Dad still wishes I’d just gone to UCT and done a BCom). I love the sea, the mountains, the people. I adore Long Street and the Promenade.
Despite this, Johannesburg has always held a strange allure for me. Other Capetonians think I’m ill or blame it on the fact I was born in Benoni.
I think it’s because the sprawling megalopolis has a layer of grit under its gloss. Unlike Cape Town’s comely winsomeness, Joburg’s beauty is all angles – sharp and unforgiving. It’s also heavy with history, a large part of that residing in Soweto.
So when our recently emigrated Capetonian friends organised a a tour of it all, I was as excited as the hadeda outside my window at 5am.
Ah, Soweto. A name that was invented via a public competition, the prize money being 10 pounds. Idiosyncratic and surprising, it’s a community of heartbreak, hope… and guys mowing the lawn on a Saturday morning.
I was astounded by how much housing there is, even in the poorer areas, and the manicured green parks that accompany it. During apartheid Soweto residents weren’t allowed trees or bushes (terrorists could hide behind them), but they’re definitely making up for it now.
In Cape Town we have the dreary N2 Gateway Project buffered by 40 kilometres of shack, shacks, shacks. Yes, the DA runs the city well – if you live in the suburbs.
First we visited the Freedom Charter Monument at Walter Sisulu Square, Kliptown, where Alistair and Chris were nearly kidnapped by Amway representatives and ended up buying Obama T-shirts. We then went on to the Regina Mundi Church, where students took shelter during the 1976 uprisings. You can still see the bullet holes in the ceiling.
Next was Nelson Mandela’s house in Vilakazi Street and the Hector Petersen Museum, designed by the same firm that created the exceptional Apartheid Museum.
It was a very full and emotional morning. I could describe how overwhelming it was, how I shed a tear in the church, how proud I was of everything we’ve achieved and how saddened I was by the distance we still have to go. But I think it’s an experience that can’t be shared, only felt for yourself.
The big bad city
After Soweto, we went for pap ‘n wors in Newtown. Hey, if you’re going to be a tourist you may as well embrace it.
After lunch our wonderful tour guide, Dorothy, took us to the Standard Bank offices. I was confused. Is Joburg so money-oriented that this qualifies as an attraction? But inside the building there’s an old mining tunnel – Ferreira’s mine – that was discovered during construction.
One of my favourite non-fiction books is Diamonds, Gold & War by Martin Meredith, which details the discovery of gold and the ensuing madness that preambled apartheid. So it was quite something to step into an elevator in the middle of the city and go down into a shallow stope.
We then went to the top of Carlton Centre. It gave us a mild case of vertigo and a true idea of how massive Joburg is. I loved it.
Our tour ended at Constitution Hill. It’s wonderfully fitting that we could just stroll into the place that guards our democracy. There were plenty of interesting décor choices inside the actual court and mesmerising pieces of art just outside it. The toilets were clean enough for a constitutional too.
As we stepped out into the Highveld sunshine to make our way home, there was a flock of small birds nibbling at tourist leftovers and I thought, “Wow. Even the animals like Joburg.”
– See more photos on my flickr account.
*If you want to do a Jozi tour (and you really should if you’ve read this far), get Dorothy of D’s Tours & Transfers to take you – email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 082 444 3604. She’s fantastic.