Johannesburg!

I arrived safely in Johannesburg and had just a night to spend before my mom arrived to Johannesburg the following morning. Once we settled into our hotel room (yes, with a bed and all… a bed is so appreciated after two months of sleeping on the ground with a sleeping bag!), we were off to explore the city! I surprised my mom and booked two tickets to visit Dr. Von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibit. It was a perfect afternoon for two individuals who are very interested in science, anatomy, and medicine! Afterwards we walked around aimlessly as we took in the downtown area of Johannesburg before returning back to our hotel area. I am not familiar with Johannesburg what-so-ever so much of the itinerary and hotel planning was done based on reviews and such but we got quite lucky with a hotel booking in Sandton (a suburb of Johannesburg). Let’s just say that our car count on the first day consisted of 1 Ferrari, 1 Maserati, and 2 Aston Martin’s… my mom was quite excited! Just a few blocks from our hotel is Nelson Mandela Square which boasts world-class shopping, entertainment, and restaurants which reminded me of Los Angeles or New York… arguably one of the nicest malls I have ever been to! My mom and I had a full day of adventure the following day as we spent the day touring Johannesburg on a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus which took us to many of the local attractions around Johannesburg. We had quite the adventure simply getting to the bus as a delay caused us to be very short on time. In fact, as we exited the train station to get to the bus, we saw the bus just pulling away from the station. I ran (like one of those crazy tourists) to try to catch the bus but it was already a block away and there was simply no luck. However, a local saw the scenario play out and he honked at us and waved us over to his truck then took us to catch up with the bus… just a reason why I love the people here in South Africa so, so much! We ended up jumping on with the two other passengers on the massive bus–clearly it wasn’t a big day for sight seeing around Johannesburg, ha! We passed by Ghandi Square and Carlton Center before making our way to Gold Reef City, a large amusement park built on an old gold mine. Gold was discovered in 1886 and at the time there were 3,000 people in the area now known as Johannesburg. Just a decade later there were more than 100,000 inhabitants and the need for a city came about, that being Johannesburg. Geographically, Johannesburg is terribly situated as the city is at a high elevation and is nowhere near a river, lake, or coastline meaning that the city of Johannesburg actually has to get its water shipped from Lesotho, a country within South Africa. Johannesburg was actually never supposed to be a permanent city but because of the wealthy minerals available, people flocked to the area and Johannesburg thrived. Today, the greater Johannesburg area is home to more than 7 million people–huge for a place that was never supposed to be a city! Anyways, Gold Reef City is not only home to an amusement park but also has a casino and an entertainment area, similar to a hotel in Las Vegas. We walked around the area for a bit before heading on a tour of Soweto nearby. Soweto, a nickname derived from the “South Western Township,” is arguably the most famous township in all of South Africa. Because of Apartheid and the forced removal of black individuals, Soweto is home to more than 1.3 million people today of which 99.3% are black. Soweto became famous on June 16, 1976 when a mass protest over government policy led to open firing leaving more than 200 students dead. Soweto is also famous as many anti-apartheid revolutionists and Nobel Peace Prize winners called Soweto home including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In addition to getting to see where both of these men grew up on our Soweto tour, we got to see where the Bill of Rights was drafted, memorials for many of the individuals killed during protest, and the surroundings of the township nowadays which is still far from ideal in terms of living conditions. It was neat to get a guided tour of Soweto as so much of South Africa’s history stems from this single township. When we returned from our tour of Soweto and re-boarded the double-decker bus, the Apartheid Museum was our next stop on the journey. I’ve heard raving reviews about this museum and although museums aren’t typically at the top of my to-do list, this one was a must! To give you a brief overview of Apartheid (and essentially what the museum was about), Apartheid was a set of rules enforced from 1948 to 1994 that brought about extreme racial segregation. There were four recognized races here in South Africa at the time: white, black, colored (a completely appropriate term here in Africa that refers to a person of mixed decent… one black and one white parent), and Indians. This racial segregation created specific residential areas for each race to limit the interaction between the different groups that basically separated blacks from the whites in hopes to achieve a supreme white class of individuals. These laws were in place until 1994… less than 20 years ago which is just mind-blowing to me! Anyways like the Rwanda Genocide Museum, although the subject matter of the museum is terribly sad, the museum itself was excellently put together. They also had a nice section dedicated to Nelson Mandela, the President of South Africa from 1994-1999 who lifted the Apartheid rules and became a national hero for South Africa. In fact, today (July 18th) is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday!! Following the museum, we completed the path around the city then headed up fifty floors to the “Top of Africa,” the tallest building in all of Africa! The views were pretty incredible from the top and we were able to better understand the layout of Johannesburg seeing it from the top! This concluded our excellent tour of the city and our first two days in Johannesburg. The following day we were off to Kruger National Park for a bit of safari fun which will be highlighted in the next blog to come!!
~Susan

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Bodies Exhibit

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Nelson Mandela Square

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Soweto

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Nelson Mandela’s Childhood Home

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Apartheid Museum

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Johannesburg from the Top of Africa

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