When I was in South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, I remember waltzing in to a liquor store with my friends before our first match at Soccer City in Johannesburg. We wanted a six-pack for the tailgate before the match. In the beer section, there were stacks of Castle Lager and Castle Lite, South Africa’s answers to Budweiser and Bud Light, and not much else. That was fine. We were 21, and I would end up drinking some of that beer out of a vuvuzela anyway (sorry, parents), like these New Zealanders we met at Royal Bafokeng stadium.
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.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Never has that quote rung more true than when we took an overnight train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. It was certainly not the quickest, nor most convenient way to travel; a flight would have arrived in just two hours instead of 26 by train. I loved it anyway, because it was one of the few times in life when the travel was as much of an experience as the destination.
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.
As Cici boarded her 777 for an overnight journey to London, I left my computer lab tutorial just after 8 pm and walked about 200 yards down Yale Road to enter modest Bidvest Stadium, home of South Africa Premier Soccer League’s (PSL) Bidvest Wits. The place was rocking. Tuesday evening’s league match was against the Kaizer Chiefs, arguably the biggest brand name in South African club football. I was first introduced to the Kaizer Chiefs in 2010 when visiting for the Fifa World Cup with friends. Their mustard-yellow and black jerseys were ubiquitous among local sports fans in Joburg, and they played in the largest Stadium in South Africa: Soccer City (now branded as FNB Stadium). The Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates, the area’s second biggest team, both have roots in Soweto, where allegiances are split between the two clubs. Their fierce rivalry dates back to 1970, when the Kaizer Chiefs, 33 years younger than the Pirates, were founded.
Poring over maps for the last few weeks as I try to get a sense of the layout of the city, the name of one particular suburb caught my eye. It’s called Roosevelt Park, and it is situated in the northern suburbs, just a few miles northwest of where we live. The name sparked my curiousity, and I wondered about the origin. I figured it could be one of two things: either Teddy Roosevelt had come through the area hunting for big game and had left his mark on the national conscience, or Roosevelt was a fairly common Afrikaans name and it had nothing to do with U.S. president’s at all (Roosevelt is, after all, a Dutch name). As it turns out, I was wrong on both counts.