Let’s face it. If you rely on Western media to teach you about Africa you’ll walk away thinking the entire continent is just one big clusterf*ck of HIV, Ebola, poverty, war, famine, and lions…lots and lots of lions. And while Africa has its challenges, it’s also a place of vast wealth, immense resources, fast growing economies, diverse cultures, and AH-MA-ZING experiences.
My brief and wondrous trip to Johannesburg, South Africa only scratched at the surface of the dopeness of the continent, but it opened my eyes in a way that many people just don’t get to see.
So let’s clear up something right quick, okay?
Africa is NOT a country
It’s a GIGANTIC continent made up of 53+ countries, over a billion people, and way too many languages to count. It’s also home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, so while your cousins may be wondering if it’s safe to hop a plane to the Motherland, the rest of the world is busy investing. Get you a piece!
And another thing…
Don’t be scared
The amount of people who asked me if I was nervous or worried about going to South Africa because….Ebola (!), or crime…was astounding. And for the record…I wasn’t!
Listen Linda, it’s important to stay safe when you’re traveling, but heading to several parts of Africa isn’t any more dangerous than walking down the block in many major U.S. cities (as a matter of fact, many U.S. cities are more violent). Just like when you travel to Latin America, the Caribbean, or Europe, basic common sense stuff applies. Don’t flash your cash, don’t troll dodgy areas alone, and don’t be the stupid tourists who just trusts ANYBODY, ok? Ok.
Now…on to the part you been waiting for….pictures!
Johannesburg was BEAUTIFUL! It’s a major metropolitan area full of shopping centers, universities, museums, and several up-and-coming neighborhoods. If you want to see the stereotypical “shanty towns” (uh…why?) you might be able to find a few shacks here and there, but the city is overwhelmingly modern and growing quickly with African immigrants pouring in from all over the continent. As my Uber driver told me, “South Africa is the breadbasket of Africa.”
The Gautrain is a billion-dollar high speed train that connects Pretoria to Johannesburg, and includes a stop at the international airport. I took the train from my hotel near Sandton (an upper middle class suburb) to Braamfontein to go on a bus tour and the whole trip took about 10 minutes and was VERY smooth.
Soweto is the spiritual, political, and cultural home of Black Johannesburg. Soweto is also a big tourists draw because Nelson Mandela’s former homes is there, as is the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is a MUST SEE to learn more about the uprisings in Soweto during the 1970s that ultimately led to the end of Apartheid.
Braamfontein is home to a bustling arts district as well as the University of the Witwatersrand, the Johannesburg theater, and Constitution Hill.
Maboneng is a privately developed neighborhood on the east side of Joburg, it’s home to tons of trendy restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, and loft apartments. If you’re looking for hipsters, you can probably find them there.
Alright, alright….there are lions…
I didn’t have time to go on safari while in Joburg, but there’s amazing place about 45-minutes outside of the city called Lion Park. It’s a great place to see some BEAUTIFUL lions (and cheetahs, African wild dogs, and a giraffe) if you’re short on time but still want to bask in nature.
I only had four days in Johannesburg, but was wonderful! The city was DOPE and I absolutely cannot wait to return. This trip was not only my first to South Africa, but the continent as a whole, and it certainly won’t be my last. I’m already trying to figure out how to take Le Kid next year for a longer stay so we can really experience what Joburg–and South Africa–is all about.