I spent quite a lot of time in Johannesburg, where I stayed with Heather, an amazing woman I used to work with when we both led very different lives in Washington, DC. Heather has been living in Jozi for a few years now, and is a photographer and blogger (her blog, 2summers, is all about life in Johannesburg, and is pretty awesome – check it out!).
Heather and I got into all sorts of fun shenanigans in and around Johannesburg. We filled our days with art and photography, live music, and exploration. We also spent a fair amount of time hunkering down in coffee shops playing on our blogs and Instagram, due to Jozi’s decision to torrentially rain for about half of my visit.
I fell in love with Johannesburg, and I really have Heather to thank for this – she showed me so much of the city, and I got to go places and do things I would never have done if I’d been touring Jozi alone.
Jozi is sort of like the NYC of South Africa (or, so I hear, of Sub-Saharan Africa in general). I love NYC, but I think I might like Jozi more (gasp!) because it is just a little rougher around the edges, a little edgier, a little more…well, African. And therefore more interesting. It’s big with a big city-feel (~10 million people, skyscrapers, the works), it’s multicultural, it has tons of boroughs, each with its own eccentric claim to fame. Also in Jozi, I found places and events that were the most harmoniously diverse I’ve ever experienced. By this I mean, many places Heather and I went, and many things we did, were about equally attended by people of both black and white race – and everyone seemed to simply enjoy themselves, together. This struck me because even in multicultural epicenters like New York, you’ll almost always find far more of one race than the other at any given bar or event or show. In the US, and everywhere else I’ve been, one race tends to dominate, depending on the scene. This was very much not the case in Johannesburg. I don’t mean to imply there is no longer racial tension or race-based issues in Jozi – there are plenty. And I know the racial harmonizing I witnessed is a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa, too. However, it was an interesting, enlightening, new, and highly positive experience. It’s something I wish was easier to find in my own cities.
I hope that this blog post changes some opinions about Johannesburg. The city has a terrible reputation, both globally and in other parts of South Africa, for having a culture of extreme violence and for being highly dangerous for tourists as well as the people who live there. Every time I mentioned to someone – whether foreign or South African – that I had spent time in Johannesburg, the reaction was unfortunately the same: surprise, incredulity that I’d spent so much time there, shock that anyone would want to go there – and then, when I would mention how I actually fell in love with the city, the reaction shifted to disbelief and a shrugging off of my opinions: “Well…if you say so…” This is really disappointing to me, because I feel Jozi has a lot to offer and is being harshly judged by insiders and outsiders alike, often based on events of the past that are now changing and improving in the city. There is a lot of redevelopment happening in the rougher parts of Jozi, a focus on community engagement, and a rapidly growing art scene, which is amazing and driven by highly active and wonderfully talented street artists, photographers, performers, and poets. Sure, you have to be careful. It’s a big city with its share of big problems. But it’s also full of kindness and creativity and community. Johannesburg is a place I would like to live. You should give it a chance.
Shifting gears from the Instawalk:
I heart Johannesburg.
Someone give me a job there!