JoburgPlaces, a downtown tour company that I’ve written about many times, recently introduced a couple of different city experiences that center around the concept of migration.
The JoburgPlaces Migrant Cuisines Storytelling Dinner is an epic evening at the Thunderwalker (formerly Somerset House) on Gandhi Square, in which JoburgPlaces guide Charlie Moyo explains the history of Johannesburg in terms of the multiple and overlapping waves of migration that have been happening since the city was founded 133 years ago. The historical overview is accompanied by a series of migrant-inspired food dishes cooked up by in-house chef Princess Bulelwa Mbonambi.
The Of Origins and and Migration Tour is a walking tour mainly around Troyeville, Ellis Park, and Doornfontein, exploring some migrant communities in that part of Joburg as Charlie explains the city’s history. The tour begins and ends at Thunderwalker.
Thoughts on Migration
Charlie taught me a lot of interesting facts about the migrant history of Joburg. For example, I never knew “New Canada”, just north of Soweto, was so named because that’s where all the Canadians settled during the Joburg gold rush. I never knew Chinese and Indians — not blacks — were the first people required to carry passbooks. (Passbooks were a precursor to what eventually became the apartheid system.) I had never even been to China City before and had no idea what an interesting place it is.
Mainly though, these experiences made me rethink a series of topics I ponder frequently anyway: migration, xenophobia, racism (xenophobia’s evil twin), and why we humans can’t seem to learn from our past mistakes.
This city didn’t exist 150 years ago, and neither did this country as we know it today. Virtually every person currently living in Johannesburg is either a migrant or descended from migrants. Whether you’re Zulu or Afrikaans, Sotho or English, Zimbabwean or Malawian or Somali or Ethiopian, Cameroonian or American or Swazi or Xhosa or Nigerian or Congoloese, Portuguese or Lithuanian or Tswana or Italian or Indian or Chinese — your people came originally from somewhere else.
The xenophobic rhetoric floating around this country lately makes my hair stand on end. I’m shocked by the things I read on Twitter, and by the things people say right to my face about foreigners ruining this country. They often seem to forget that I myself am a foreigner who, like so many others with far fewer resources than me, is fighting to make a life in South Africa.
And of course this rhetoric isn’t limited to South Africa. Xenophobia is everywhere, most notably in my own country of origin.
I really don’t get it. I love diversity — the more of it the better. The more cultures, the more languages, the more religions, the more foods, the more colors — the better. Joburg’s diversity is what I love most about it.
I love living in a place where I can have three boxing coaches from three different countries and they all teach me to box in a different way. I love living in a city where I can easily find South African pap and vleis, Lebanese shawarma, Indian curry, Cameroonian grilled fish, Chinese dumplings, Portuguese prego sandwiches, Nigerian jollof rice, and a dozen other cuisines. I love looking at colorful fabrics from all over Africa. I love learning from people who are different from me.
Why do we spend so much time hating each other — attacking each other, stealing from each other, even killing each other — when we’re really just hating ourselves?
Call me idealistic but I often ponder how much nicer the world would be if there were no passports and no borders and everyone in the world could literally go wherever the hell they want. I know I sound like John Lennon but seriously, people: Imagine it.
I guess I’d miss the passport stamps. But otherwise I love the idea.
Thanks to Charlie, Gerald, and Bulelwa from JoburgPlaces for reminding me, and for working so hard to remind the rest of South Africa and the world, that migration is beautiful.
My tours with JoburgPlaces were complimentary. Opinions are mine.