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.
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.
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.