I love Johannesburg. I visit often, and simply put, it’s one of the most fascinating cities in the world, so it’s no wonder I’m frankly tired of the disapproving looks and quotes of incorrect statistics I get from so many when say its name.
My first visit changed my life, and any trip to South Africa with an intentional Joburg bypass means missing out on this intriguing nation’s soul.
Years ago, I could’ve stayed within the lavish surroundings of my hotel and shopped the day away, but I instead opted for a private tour including a visit to Soweto, an outskirt of a million people, with far too many living in absolute squalor. To be guided through a courthouse which was once a prison, only to find that my guide was imprisoned there himself for years for breaking curfew during Apartheid was a glimpse into a difficult emotional journey from hardship to forgiveness that I will never fully comprehend.
Later on, I found myself comfortably at peace while walking in Soweto’s massive outdoor market, and even having tea at an elderly resident’s home who proudly regaled us with his own stories of the past.
As we pressed on, I encountered a makeshift shop held up by 3 ratty pieces of corrugated steel. While I could have purchased all of the contents for less than the price of a gourmet dinner, I settled on pens and lollipops and we walked down the street to a school, where 50 beautiful children rushed to the gate to see us mysterious strangers.
Mostly clothed in tatters, all with bright sparkles of wonder in their eyes. In an instant we heard the most beautiful chorus of young voices, singing us the national anthem as a way to welcome to their country which they will always be proud of, no matter how much they have (or don’t have).
The tears flowed, the emotions raced through my mind and I wondered how many visitors miss out on things like this.
So, go to Joburg. Get out of the car, follow that intriguing aroma that’s emanating from a hole-in-the-wall eatery, take time to visit a local orphanage to just hold a baby in need of love, even help a school plant a vegetable garden.
The magic of Africa lies not behind the walls of a luxury hotel, its something only found discovered once you look beyond the surface.
Do so and you’ll gain a whole new perspective on yourself and what’s important. I certainly did.