Joe and I woke up ridiculously early one Sunday morning. It was a beautiful day. Joe had an idea for an outing but wouldn’t tell me what it was. He ushered me into the car and we headed up the M1 toward Pretoria. When I saw this granite monolith staring down at us, I realized Joe was taking me to the Voortrekker Monument. Die Voortrekkermonument. (It’s all one word in Afrikaans.) Voortrekker, which means ‘pioneer’, is pronounced ‘FOUR-trecker’, with a rolled R that I can’t replicate.
UPDATE (March 2017): I wrote this post six years ago, at a time when I was pretty clueless about life in South Africa and how to write about it. I regret the title of the post and the poverty-porn-like tone that much of its prose conveys. But I have a policy of never deleting any of my old posts, so it will stay. Last Saturday Joe and I went to Diepsloot, a sprawling informal settlement — or squatter camp — on the northern outskirts of Joburg. We went with the Joburg Photowalkers to attend a Mandela Day celebration sponsored by the Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network. Diepsloot. Squatter camps like Diepsloot sprouted up in the mid-1990s, when the apartheid-era townships overflowed with people flocking to South Africa’s cities, and the government began moving those people to empty tracts of land on the cities’ edges. Nearly two decades later, the population is still growing and poverty rages on. Squatter camps, which consist mostly of corrugated iron shacks without running water or electricity, continue to swell. About 200,000 people live in Diepsloot.
When I moved to South Africa last year, I had a vague understanding of the role Nelson Mandela played in ending apartheid and reinventing this country. (Nelson Mandela is often referred to as Madiba, which is his clan name. It took me a while to figure out why people are always calling him that.) It also took a while for me to comprehend the magnitude of Madiba’s impact on the South African people, and on the consciousness and spirit of this country. I’ve been trying to think of a historical figure who has had a comparable impact in the United States. There isn’t one. Two years ago, when Madiba turned 91, his birthday was officially coined Mandela Day — a day to honor Nelson Mandela and perpetuate his legacy worldwide. Mandela Day is tomorrow, 18 July, but the country has been celebrating all weekend. Mandela Day is a big deal around here.
My fascination with Hillbrow — a former middle-class inner suburb that is now the toughest neighborhood in Joburg — began in February when I explored Hillbrow on a Joburg Photowalk. When I heard there would be another Hillbrow Photowalk this past weekend, exploring the grounds of the old Johannesburg General Hospital, I signed up, stat. Saturday afternoon in Hillbrow.
This week I attended a Q&A discussion with David Goldblatt, one of South Africa’s most legendary photographers, at the Market Photo Workshop in Joburg. The Market Photo Workshop, which Goldblatt founded in the 1980s, is a school for aspiring photographers, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Workshop is currently running an exhibition of Goldblatt’s photographs that lasts until the end of July. The Q&A was moderated by three Workshop students, who asked Goldblatt a series of questions and then took questions from the audience. I was enthralled by every second of the hour-long discussion. Goldblatt, with his photos behind him, speaks before a rapt audience during the Q&A.
Welcome to the final blog post about my hike through the Kruger Park’s Pafuri Triangle: the mineral installment. Most of the facts in this post were gleaned from Brian, our Pafuri wilderness guide, and Wikipedia. If you’ve read parts 1 and 2 of this series, you know that the Pafuri Triangle is chock-full of majestic African wildlife and awe-inspiring trees. But Pafuri also has rocks. And water. And an amazing geological and archaeological history. Geology and archaeology aren’t my specialties, but this post is an excuse to show you some of my favorite pics from the trip that don’t feature animals or plants. Water is a mineral, right? Either way, I really like this picture.
When Joe was a little boy growing up in Johannesburg, his favorite place to eat was a restaurant downtown on Commissioner Street, called the Golden Dragon. At least he thinks that’s what it was called. There’s no way to confirm it now because that restaurant, like much of Joburg’s “Old Chinatown,” is long gone. Run-down buildings on the outskirts of Old Chinatown, which is adjacent to the trendy inner city neighborhood of Newtown.
Yesterday, thanks to my new friends at travelwrite.co.za, I attended a “Rediscover Joburg” tour hosted by the mayor of Johannesburg. The purpose of the tour was to showcase various development projects in the city to members of the media and other invited guests. It was also a farewell tour for the mayor, Amos Masondo, who steps down this Tuesday after 10 years in office. I showed up at the Joburg Theatre, the tour’s starting point, with no idea what to expect. When I saw the buses, I knew I was in for an exciting day. The bus I rode during the Rediscover Joburg tour.
On my recent post about downtown Joburg, I received some questions about Hillbrow — a huge residential community overlooking the city center. I now have some answers. Hillbrow was a bustling middle-class neighborhood until the end of apartheid rule, when it began to transform. Similar to many 20th-century American inner cities, Hillbrow’s white middle class fled to the suburbs, making way for poor black South Africans (who were previously barred from living in places like Hillbrow) and immigrants from across the continent. The population soared and crime grew rampant; Hillbrow became a “no-go” area for visitors. Five years ago it would have been difficult (maybe impossible) for me to walk in Hillbrow and not get robbed. But the times, they are a-changin’. Yesterday I slung my camera over my shoulder and joined the Joburg Photowalkers for a jaunt through what most people consider to be Jozi’s meanest streets. One of many colorfully painted apartment buildings in Hillbrow. Our group met up at the Lutheran Community Outreach Foundation, a community center on Edith Cavell Street. This place deserves its own post so I’ll save it for later. At the center we met up with Tim Rees-Gibbs, a lifelong Hillbrow resident and member of […]
Joe and I were downtown again last night, at the Bensusan Museum of Photography. The Bensusan is inside Museum Africa, a cavernous building in Newtown that used to be part of a giant city market. The entrance to Museum Africa, seen from the Bensusan Museum on the upper level. I didn’t have time to explore much of the Bensusan, which houses an impressive collection of rare photographic equipment and prints, or the rest of Museum Africa. I’ll have to go back soon for another post. Last night we were there for the opening of an exhibition by our friend Eva-Lotta Jansson called “My (Art) Burg.”
Soweto, the largest township in South Africa, is a country unto itself. About a million people live there — the same population as Swaziland. It’s a cultural and economic hub for black South Africans, and legendary for the historic events that happened there in the decades leading up to the end of apartheid. Soweto is just a few miles from Melville but I had only been there once on a brief drive-through with Joe. I decided Mom’s visit would be a good opportunity to see more of Soweto.
On the last day of 2010, Joe and I went down to the city center to monitor the Zimbabwe situation (which had died down significantly since yesterday) and to check out the Joburg Carnival. There were no rides or carnival games — “carnival” means “parade” in South Africa. The theme of the parade was “Jozi my Jozi,” Jozi being another nickname for Johannesburg. I have no idea what the theme of this float was. But the coolest thing about it was that the guys driving it spun it around the intersection several times before continuing on. I almost got run over while photographing it.