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.
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 […]