If South Africa is known for only one thing, it is the incredible wildlife that roam its lands. Yet in the four months since Spencer and I moved here, we had yet to spot much more than lizards and house pets in the city. So with the arrival of my sister and nephew, it was time to head into the bush.
Today is Freedom day in South Africa, commemorating 22 years since the first democratic election was held here, marking the official end of institutionalized colonialism and apartheid in the country. This weekend, we got a glimpse at both South Africa’s dark past and bright future at Constitution Hill.
It has been a quiet week, as we gear up for our next big trip to Mozambique on Thursday. Spencer has been working extra hard on school work. As for me, I thought I’d take this down time to give you an idea what I get up to to on an average day.
For all its diversity and inequality, the inclusiveness of Johannesburg sometimes cathces me by surprise. South Africa still has a long way to go towards being a fully equal society, and there are times when it seems terribly segregated. But here in the heart of the “Rainbow Nation,” there is an energy of improvement and an economic drive that seems to transcend much of the racial weight that has for so long been a burden on this society. The people of Joburg are driven and hopeful, and see themselves as part of a cosmopolitan city, rather than just members of any race, ethnic group or gender.
This past weekend, I saw this positivity and inclusivity in action. I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Grand White Dinner, courtesy of Marie Claire Magazine. The concept of the Grand White is fairly simple: the day of the event, you get a text with the location of the party. Show up dressed in all white (with a touch of green), bring along a picnic and drinks, find your seat a long table and decorate (with more white and green), then enjoy the atmosphere and dance floor into the night.
Spencer has been away this week on a class trip, so I have been looking for new activities and ways to get involved around Joburg. Through a new friend, I was introduced to the charity knit-a-square, and immediately loved the idea.
The concept of knit-a-square is to have people from all over the world send in 8×8 inch (20cm) squares, which are then sewn together, 35 at a time, to make blankets. These blankets, along with hats and hand-warmers and cuddly toys that the generous knitters send over, are distributed to street children, AIDs orphans, and other vulnerable children around the city.
The company that collects trash in Johannesburg – the superbly named Pikitup – has been on strike for four weeks now. The workers that are part of the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) are demanding salary increases and a change of leadership. The striking is illegal and has been quite contentious, and negotiations don’t yet seem to be reaching any kind of conclusion. Scabs have been working through the night to pick up the backlog of rubbish, but have apparently been facing intimidation and even violent threats.
The striking Pikitup workers have been hitting the streets downtown, overturning trash cans throughout the Central Business District. The growing piles of trash and the scattered litter through the streets was enough reason for us to look for somewhere a little less urban to spend our Saturday.
Joburg is full of surprises. Surprise lightning storms, surprise pot holes, surprise power outages. But mostly good surprises, like a pop-up restaurant based around the concept of a Scottish Whisky, housed in a old mining warehouse that has been converted into a hip market in a forgotten, industrial corner of the city.
South Africa is known for its beautiful landscapes, delicious wine, and fascinating history. Primarily, though, it’s known for its animals: the elephants, giraffes, lions, and zebras. As of this week, we have been here for 2 months (!), but thus far, we have not really seen much of the fauna that South Africa is famous for. Aside from a playful monkey and some gentle cheetahs, we have not yet encountered most of the species this country has to offer. There are only four main varieties of wildlife that occupy Joburg. I’ll break them down for you.
Ok folks, back to South Africa!
Johannesburg is a HUGE city. We have barely explored even a tiny bit of it, having seen some of the downtown and lots of the northern suburbs. But the vast majority of the population lives in townships on the outskirts of the city.
Today marked my official foray into the sport of orienteering. A couple weeks ago during my orientation weeks at Wits, I was looking for the football and futsal club tables to sign up. Unexpectedly, a booth caught my eye because of the large map displayed behind a bored-looking student. I reached the booth to find it was the Wits Orienteering Club, and was greeted with enthusiasm by the student as if I had finally broken the monotony of her post. I heard of Orienteering before but let her know I was new to the sport. I enjoy hiking and enjoy maps, so it didn’t take much for her to sell me on joining the club.
The basic premise of orienteering is that the participant is given a map of a defined area – a farm, park, neighborhood, etc. – and the goal is to navigate through the map based on a predetermined route marked by waypoints. The key is that each waypoint must be reached in a particular order, and if you accidentally break that order and tag in to the wrong waypoint, you’re disqualified. The most popular players of this sport are in the UK and Europe, where there is a professional league with events across the continent. After seeing a promotional video during my first club meeting, it seems the pros all have one thing in common: lankiness. I don’t know if that’s a coincidence or just a result of the sport essentially being a long-distance running competition with the added wrinkle of navigation.