Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Venturing into Joburg

Our long anticipated trip to Johannesburg and  Soweto today was not part of the volunteer programme, instead we organised it ourselves, hiring a local guide to show us the sights and keep us safe. The drive into Johannesburg took about an hour and a half, via Sandton, and we entered the city via the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Interestingly, our guide told us that buying things in Johannesburg, such as a can of soda, tends to cost about 1/3 of the price of buying them in surrounding suburbs - the reverse of most cities, where things tend to be more expensive than surrounding areas.

Our first stop was the Carlton Building, nicknamed the "Top of Africa" and claiming to be the tallest building in the Southern hemisphere-  a tower block entered via a shopping centre. We were warned to leave our bags and valuables in the car with the driver, for safety. Entering the shopping centre, we were painfully aware of being the only white people in the vicinity, as all eyes turned to look at us. Perhaps travelling past the newly built Shard in London every day has spoiled me, but I did not find the 50 floors of the Carlton building too breathtaking.

It gave us an overview of the layout of the city and the suburbs, but the heat haze and general African dustiness prevented us from seeing too far.

Descending the tower, we headed to the Oriental Market on the recommendation of Heather, a volunteer who grew up in South Africa. A mixture of stall greeted us, from Indian spices and traditional Oriental outfits to electronics.

Our quick pit stop allowed us to tuck into the highly recommended samoosas, a delicious traditional Indian food.

Our next stop was the Apartheid Museum, which gave an insight into the apartheid and the life and work of Nelson Mandela. The entrance was very cleverly designed; visitor tickets are randomly assigned as either "white" or "non-white", and they must enter the museum via the corresponding entrance, separating visitors for the first part of the museum and allowing them to briefly experience the separation of apartheid.

Whilst in the outdoor area of the museum, we experienced our first South African rain storm- an intense downpour that saw the raindrops hitting the floor and bouncing back equally as forcefully. It lasted about 15 minutes, but when emerged from the museum about 45 minutes later, there was no evidence that the shower had ever happened.

The Nelson Mandela exhibition was particularly interesting, featuring a moving video montage of Mandela's political life.

Leaving the museum, our next stop was Soweto, a township just outside of Johannesburg, known for poverty.

Previous entry ("The African transport system")
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