I went to Joburg & drove around at night with my doors unlocked & all I got was this lousy blog post
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Be careful. That’s all I heard when I told people I was heading to Johannesburg. Please be careful.
Don’t carry any valuables. Don’t stop at red lights. Lock your doors. Don’t go into the CBD. Don’t go out at night. Don’t go into the townships. In fact don’t go into Joburg at all, just land there and then get the hell out.
More than anywhere else I’ve ever been, I started buying into the hype. I was definitely going to South Africa, and I was definitely landing in Joburg, but I actually considered not staying in the city itself for even a day, which for a city girl like me is anathema.
But I’d heard this type of thing before. Like when I went to Brazil, I became convinced I’d be mugged or scammed. This was because absolutely everyone I knew or talked to who’d been to Rio had a story to tell. And when I said I was going to Joburg the reaction was the same as I’d got for Sao Paulo: “Why would you want to go there?”
People expect you to want to go to Rio or Cape Town, but not their land-locked, less sexy, more functional and edgier counterparts. In both cases it made me want to go even more just to prove everyone wrong, but more importantly to see for myself. But I’m contrary like that.
The thing is I’m from central London and I love the urban jungle. Show me a city like Sao Paolo or Joburg and I’m just aching to get in there and explore it, find out what makes it tick, and get under the skin of the place. I find beauty in urban landscapes, if I’m honest probably more than I do in the most stunning mountain scenery or picturesque countryside vistas, and I like to be ‘in the middle of it all’ more than I like to ‘get away from it all’.
In Brazil I started off walking around without any jewellery on and carrying all my belongings in a plastic bag as advised, and finished up wearing my nicest watch and my best togs and still feeling underdressed compared to the local girls. I knew that things would be similar in Joburg. People live there. They don’t leave their homes every day dressed as badly as possible, stuff their money in their sock and scurry around in fear for their lives all day long.
So I just got on with it. I didn’t don my diamond tiara or tote a Birkin bag around the place, but I dressed normally, walked around with my camera, drove around in my car, obeyed red traffic signals, went to the CBD, toured around Soweto, and you know what, it was fine. In fact it was more than fine, it was great. It’s official: Joburg is great! I found it fascinating, vibrant, colourful and alive and I’m SO glad I went. My only regret is not staying longer. It was New Year’s Eve on the day I left, everyone in the streets was carrying fireworks and there was a sense of anticipation in the air as everyone busied themselves for the biggest party of the year, and all I could think was “I wish I could stay here for New Year!”
Sometimes you just want to like a place, and I was dying to like Joburg. I wanted to come home and say to people, you know where was great? Johannesburg. And then see their faces, and explain to them why. So, it was lucky for me that my time in Joburg made me love it.
It helped that I stayed in a stylish and fun hotel, and had great company in the other guests I ran into who were equally delighted in Joburg, but my positive experiences of Joburg were also down to the fact that after a few hours in Jozi I hooked up with a local guide called Tumi, who was able to bring the city alive for me, by explaining the history and hopefully, the brighter future of the place.
I’m not saying that Johannesburg is not without its problems, its crime and even its no-go areas, just like many other big cities, or any place where the very rich and very poor live side by side. Nor can I say that bad experiences can’t or won’t happen to tourists, but I’m just saying that the negative perception we gain of a place through osmosis after years of watching TV and reading the papers should at least challenged or investigated before we decide if it’s true, and what better way than to see with your own eyes? As a tourist you’d have to be pretty unlucky to get caught up in anything crime related in the brief time you spend in the city, so the paranoia about visiting needs to be weighed up with the benefits of getting to experience the place for yourself.
So if you’re planning on visiting South Africa please be careful. Be careful you don’t miss out on Joburg. Seeing it really put the country into perspective for me, gave me an insight into South Africa’s most culturally interesting destination, and actually I just had a really good time there.
35.35a Fourth Avenue, Melville, Johannesburg, Gauteng, Republic of South Africa
Tumi: Mobile number – 0027 72 343 1098
For further info on Joburg, visit www.joburg.org.za
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