Well, I’ve been in “jo-burg” for almost two months now, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of this place.
Jo-burg is a city with quite a depressing history. Apartheid, which was government legislation that actively encouraged segregation, only ended two decades ago. I’ve met several people who remember when it ended, and others who remember some of the famous atrocities during that time. Things like the Soweto Uprising, the death of Hector Pietersen, and District 6. Apartheid limited the people so much that for much of the 70’s and 80’s, South Africa was a police state which favored no one but those in power.
Jo-burg is a city where much of the atrocities are still influencing events of today. There is quite a divide between the rich and the poor. So much so that some areas of town have no streetlights and dilapidated houses, while others are decked-out with the latest and greatest architecture, fashion, and security. The street I live on, in particular, is a prime example of this divide, more on that in a later post.
Driving in Jo-burg is an adventure all by itself. In this city, street signs and roads are only somewhat marked, while traffic lights are usually optional. It’s not uncommon that a car will swipe between you and another car just to run the red light five cars in front of you. Couple that with the fact that almost all of Jo-burg is built on steep hills and winding roads, and it becomes a large boiling pot of traffic nightmares.
Other fears about Jo-burg relate to its crime problem. A few years ago, the city was famous for the frequency of violent car-jackings that occurred. I’ve met several people who have been car-jacked or had their house broken into, all of which say it is a pretty terrifying experience. Upon arriving in Jo-burg, I was briefed on several precautions to try and minimize any risk of getting robbed or car-jacked. These are:
1. Never show how much money you have in public
2. Leave adequate space between your car and the car in front of you, so if someone does try to rob you, you have space to get away
3. Never go anywhere by yourself
4. Stay away from dark streets
5. Never look a car-jacker or robber in the eye, they will do anything to keep from being identified
6. If someone does rob you, give them what they want, otherwise they will beat you to death
Most of these precautions are taken with a grain of salt of course. I’ve met several people who have lived in Jo-burg for many years and never been robbed or gotten into an accident.
Yet despite these fears, Jo-burg actually can be a really fun place.
There’s a section of the main city that has live music, comedy shows, art shows, and even craft brewing companies every weekend, and is usually the place to go on a Sunday morning. At night, the city comes alive with tons of events. I’ve seen jazz bands, live theater shows, Hugh Masekela, stand-up comedians, and even a few heavy-metal bands that warmly remind me of certain venues in Council Bluffs.
Jo-burg at night is something extraordinary, when parts of the city come alive with energy, music, and excitement. It’s not uncommon for us to hear live music on our street, and the hustle and bustle of the inner city at night sweeps you up into it. Going to any of the local coffee shops and bars at night is likely to be full of entertainment and fun, provided you don’t go near the Central Business District unless you ABSOLUTELY have to.
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