Johannesburg has the reputation of a dangerous city where crimes are very frequent. As Nairobi in Kenya, the list of crimes is impressive: home thefts, robbery on the street, robbery at an ATM, domestic violence, and murders. Despite that, a visit to Johannesburg is worth the effort if only to notice that one doesn't feel more insecure in this city than anywhere else in the world.
Crimes are often restricted to townships and happen during the night. Thus, with a bit of self-awareness and moving about during the day, Joburg is safe. However, stories and rumours being quite strong, I opted not to bring my photo equipment: a choice that I somewhat regret. Thus, no photos of Joburg.
For my first days on African soil, I chose to base myself in a backpacker hostel in Soweto, the biggest township of South Africa, but with a very important history in the process that ended Apartheid.
The history of South Africa is difficult to summarize in a few lines. The colonization of the country was done by the British and the Dutch (Boers). There were some wars between British and Boers as well as against the local people (the black Africans). Regardless of the group where one lived, the whites were always considered a superior race and the non-whites (blacks, Indians, Asians, coloured) as an inferior category of citizens. The blacks, in particular, were treated in a very dehumanizing way.
In the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the history of Apartheid can be learned. In the years 1900, the whites were afraid to lose power and control and started to make laws that formed Apartheid; a word meaning being apart. In a way, I think that Apartheid was similar to slavery. Black people and non-whites couldn't vote, they couldn't go in certain area without a pass, they couldn't own a land, a business, or a house in a zone not allowed by the government. Their salary was ridiculously low and the working conditions were horrible (in the mines for example). In public places, there were lines for white people and another one for non-whites. Eventually, a law attributed 92% of the South-African lands to the whites and the rest, to the blacks that represented 80% of the population.
An example of the absurdity under the Apartheid is seen on this photo. The committee giving pass to the people made many mistakes that were difficult to rectify later on. Take time to read the text on the photo...
Well, if you are starting to be interested in the history of South Africa, you could start by reading the book by Nelson Mandela called 'A long walk to freedom'.
In South Africa, each town or city was mainly white people and next to it, there was a township where the blacks and other non-whites were living. Soweto is the township next to Johannesburg. Nowadays, the blacks have taken their place in the towns and villages and are now free as any whites or other races. Since the end of Apartheid in 1990, a population of middle class and rich blacks live in the same area as the whites. However, the townships still exist and are still strongly inhabited by blacks. There are several levels of 'quality' in townships, but on these photos, I show you the more basic part of Soweto.
These houses were built by the government. The goal was to offer them to people of Soweto that had to pay $70 a month for 5 years and then own the apartment. But $70 is too much for most people of Soweto. Thus, the people boycotted the project. The result: for 6 years, these buildings have been empty.
In Soweto, there is a superb backpacker hostel owned by a black born in Soweto. In South Africa (and Africa in general), business 100% black-owned are fairly rare. Moreover, the place is very nice and the people are very friendly.
The story of Soweto is strongly linked to Apartheid. The photo shows an event that was important in the story of the country. In 1976, the Apartheid regime is still firmly in place. The blacks are receiving basic education in classrooms overfilled with more than 80 students and with teachers that are often not very qualified. The government then decided that from now on, education should be done in Afrikaans instead of English.
Normally, education is in English and very few students or teachers speaks Afrikaans. Students didn't agree with this and decided to take the street to protest the new law. They started a protest march in the heart of Soweto thinking of going to Johannesburg. The government wanted to stop the protest and started firing on the people. The first young man to die was Hector Pieterson, a young man of only 13 years. The photo shows Hector in the arm of another student and his sister walking alongside.
That day and the following months, several protest movement erupted in all the townships across the country. More than 1000 students were killed and many more were injured. Around the world, opposition to the regime started to gather momentum and many protesters were asking their government to intervene. Sanctions were imposed, but Apartheid resisted until 1990. After many years of sanctions, the country was struggling hard and the new government elected in 1990 quickly ended Apartheid...
Here is Nelson Mandela's house in Soweto. He lived there for 4 years with his first wife. Then after his divorce, he lived some more time with its new wife Winnie Mandela. Then, he went underground and was subsequently imprisoned for 27 years for his involvement in politic. Winnie Mandela continued to live there. Nelson Mandela is still considered a great politic man that fought for his people's freedom. After 27 years in prison and the end of Apartheid, he was elected the first black president of the democratic South Africa. An interesting story to read in the book mentioned before.
Pretoria, located 50 km from Johannesburg, is the administrative capital of South Africa. Pretoria is considered more relax and safe that Joburg. Nowadays, it is still the seat of the government.
A statue of Nelson Mandela in front of the government buildings.
Downtown Pretoria is not very interesting, except for Church Square that is surrounded by buildings with a nice architecture. Unfortunately, the day I visited, the road all around the square was being remade.
In the centre of Church Square, a statue of the old president of the Boer state, Paul Kruger.
Toward the end of the 1800, the region was under control of the Boers and not the British. Kruger was the president. He owned a small vacation house in Pretoria. Inside the house, one can see how richly the president lived while the black people were all packed in townships.
This monument is near Pretoria. It commemorates the Boers that fled the English regime in the Cape colony in the years 1800. At that time, the British were controlling Cape Town and the surroundings. The Boers, unhappy of their lives under the English regime, decided to quit the region to go to the north-east and they founded Pretoria. This great trek of more than a 1000 km in unknown territory is celebrated with this monument.
An old fort.