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Walking around downtown Joburg

by - October 11 2010

I spent a day walking around downtown Johannesburg. I had received very mixed advice about the safety of doing this. One white person told me that white people never went there and joked that I should wear a flak jacket if I went. My black hotel receptionist told me that the violence in johannesburg was overhyped by racist western journalists who wanted to paint post-apartheid as a failure and that it was in fact no worse than a US black ghetto, and I would be fine, provided I stayed out of the really bad parts (where even most blacks won't go) and didn't look like I had money.

I decided that I should at least have a look, but I left all valuables behind, carrying only a map torn out of my guide book (being seen with a guidebook is dangerous because tourists are targeted) and a couple of notes. I also wore my dirtiest, scruffiest clothes, and skipped my morning shower in an attempt to look like someone who wouldn't have money. I'm pleased to report that I didn't get shot and that it was an interesting experience.

I was walking around town for over four hours, saw hundreds of black people, but only saw five whites walking outside. I saw lots of whites driving cars, lots of whites inside guarded shopping malls, and lots of whites reportedly work in the buildings, but they don't go outside. It reminded me a lot of Los Angeles.

I visited a traditional "muti" shop. Muti is a form of traditional medicine and most of the things in the shop seemed to be dead animal parts. A lot of people reportedly believe muti magic works and the South African football team even employ their own muti man. This sounds crazy until you recall how many people in the west believe in homeopathy.

Another highlight was the view from the Carlton tower, the tallest building in Africa.

KFC seems to be big here. Every street corner seems to have a KFC and one can often see one KFC from another KFC. More generally fried chicken seems to be a very popular food and even McDonalds seem to make it their focus rather than their beef burgers.