I should probably nail my colours to the mast and say first up, I’m not Johannesburg’s biggest fan. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t recommend visiting – just don’t stay too long!
It’s expensive and we all know its less than salubrious reputation in respect to safety! If and when you do go however, a trip to the countries largest township, Soweto, should be high on your agenda. I spent most of a day there, with the highlight being a smaller suburb within Soweto called Kliptown and it was certainly an eye-opener. The squalor in which the South African Government ‘allows’ so many of its citizens to live in is quite alarming and considering this is in a country which likes to be considered ‘first-world’ I find it doesn’t quite sit to well with me.
Traveling isn’t all about drinking buckets of whisky and red-bull on the beach, or finding a cheap happy hour in Manhattan – and that’s what I truly love about it. The end of the apartheid in SA was certainly hastened by the people of Soweto (with a special mention to the students who defiantly stood up against the sweeping changes to their education system and many were killed in the process). But it seems that while lots of Soweto has moved on since then, there’s plenty of it still in absolute poverty with a distinct lack of education and health care. *While I was there I saw an angry mob storm past me, on questioning everyone as to what was going on, apparently where we had parked, a guy had been stabbed in the neck and died a couple of days previously and the mob had just discovered where he was being kept so they were off to fetch him and were planning to beat him to death :S
I don’t want to paint a negative picture of Soweto however – the people here are some of the nicest I have ever run into (and I guess the mob were merely governing their own land, in lieu of an effective police service) and are more than accommodating to people coming in and looking around so go ahead and see for yourself, I’m sure you’ll find the same hospitality as I did. Soweto also houses the only street in the whole to have hosted two Nobel Peace Prize winners in Nelson Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu – now that is impressive! You can see their house – literally 20 metres from each other!
Soweto is a great way to spend a day – just go with an open mind.
Also, if you have time there’s a great museum dedicated to the Apartheid – it’s massive though so give yourself time to explore the whole thing, it gives real insights into South Africa’s chequered past. Even if you’re not a museum person, this place is still awesome.