Welcome to Jozi!
Sooooo I know that I said I'd detail my adventures in Stockholm in my next post, but after being in Johannesburg for a couple of weeks, I've been too excited about my time here to even think about Sweden. I landed in Jozi (another name for Johannesburg) at about 4am, so by the time I got to my temporary housing in Maboneng, I got to see the city come alive. Maboneng, a precinct within the greater Johannesburg city, is a chic, artsy area with lots of lively restaurants, bars and entertainment. From my 7th floor studio apartment I could hear local performers singing, see vendors selling art and other items, and watch travelers from around the world converging in one area to experience and enjoy all that Johannesburg has to offer. My first day I slept a lot and tried to readjust after traveling for two days from Tromsø, to Oslo, to Doha, to my final stop in Joburg. That night I went to a restaurant that was next to my apartment building and enjoyed curry chicken with rice before heading back upstairs to rest some more.
The next day I felt much more adventurous and decided to visit the Apartheid Museum. Johannesburg, and all of South Africa experienced a cruel period of apartheid where Black South Africans were oppressed by Dutch, French and English colonizers after gold was discovered in Johannesburg–the white colonizers dubbed themselves Afrikaners. The museum chronicles life in apartheid SA for Afrikaners, coloreds (mixed race individuals), and Blacks, and takes you on a journey from its beginning, through the struggle for freedom, and finally to its ending. Before going to the museum I didn't know much about apartheid or South Africa, but after a few hours reading and learning, I realize the parallels between the Black South African struggle during and post-apartheid, and the Black American struggle after the abolition of slavery, during Jim Crow, and today. In just a short amount of time I've learned so much about the history of SA and Johannesburg, and I've been able to speak with a variety of Black and white Joburgers about their experiences, struggles, and livelihood during and post-apartheid.
In addition to the Apartheid Museum, I've had the opportunity to visit the Johannesburg Zoo, the Old Fort Jail on what is now Constitution Hill, and tour through Joburg and the historic township of Soweto. The Johannesburg Zoo spans 55 hectares and contains over 365 species of animals, including the "Big 5"– lions, leopards, elephants, rhino's, and buffalo. I spent about 2 hours there and I still don't think I got to see all of the animals (although part of that time was spend eating some tasty food at the zoo's café). The Old Fort and Number 4 jails were where thousands of prisoners during apartheid were sent for breaking the law, but also for their activism and rebellion against the oppressive apartheid regime. As expected during this era, Black inmates were treated significantly worse than their white counterparts. The conditions were inhumane, and the treatment was excessively abusive towards Black inmates and activists. When the jail closed down in 1983 (yes, this inhumane treatment lasted until 1983), years later the site was preserved as a museum and the Constitutional Court of South Africa was erected from demolished areas of the prison. Many of the demolished artifacts of the prison were preserved to be integrated into the infrastructure of the Courthouse to reflect on its past, and act as a reminder for the present and future.
Soweto is a historic area of Johannesburg because it was where Black people were forcibly relocated during apartheid to separate them from whites who flocked to the inner city during the gold rush. Consequently, it became the home of many anti-apartheid and human rights activists during apartheid, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Winnie Madikizela Mandela. Soweto is also known for the student-led uprising against the mandated use of Afrikaans (the language spoken exclusively by Afrikaners and their domestic servants) for teaching in Black schools. Black students and teachers did not know Afrikaans, so this meant that students' education suffered. The peaceful protests and more violent riots were "subdued" by the police, and resulted in 176 students being killed, and and countless others being killed and injured. While Afrikaans is still the main language spoken by Afrikaners, South Africa now boasts an impressive 11 official languages. This includes languages spoken by the many native tribes that existed in South Africa prior to apartheid.
After a week of staying in Maboneng, I moved to my permanent home in Randburg, a more affluent area of Johannesburg that, unsurprisingly, is mostly populated by whites and non-black POC. My host, however, is a young Black woman, which makes me feel a lot more at home in this area. I started my work here with an organization called Nutty Scientists this past Monday. The organization seeks to expose and teach children about science in ways that are fun and exciting. On Monday I met Kevin, the man who owns the organization, and learned more about his work, his goals, and the types of activities that the organization does. In the same day, after talking with Kevin for a little bit, I actually got to participate in one of the weekly workshops that he hosts. We worked with a group of 8 pre-primary aged kids and made nutty putty. We mixed corn starch, bath soap and cooking oil to create the putty. While some of the students were successful in making it, a lot of the kids just competed to see who could make the biggest, "ooey gooey mess". I'm not used to working with kids and was a little nervous at first, but I loved every second of being there and the kids were a lot of fun!
I also got the opportunity to connect with a Davidson alum ('01) who works and lives in Johannesburg! She invited me to her book club meeting where I got to meet a lot of interesting women who were born and raised in Johannesburg, and women from the U.S. who are living in Johannesburg. After book club she invited me to a play in the historic Market Theater, where her job was sponsoring an outing for students who attend the African Leadership Academy. I loved reflecting on our time at Davidson and comparing our experiences as Black students. Since our first meeting we have kept in touch and plan on hanging out a lot more before I leave! So far my time in Joberg has been amazing, and I'm glad that I get to call this incredible city my home for the next few months!