The arrival at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport was a real thrill. This trip was postponed so many times, that finally landing in South Africa, after 10 hour direct flight, made me feel over excited. I was supposed to start that journey three years ago, but lots of circumstances were changed ever since. Eventually, an opportunity, popping up at the right moment, accelerated my plans. So, I ended up packing, booking and traveling speedily as usual. And here I am, already in Johannesburg.
Surely, I already had a list of attractions, prepared in advance, where and what to visit in and around Joburg (the popular short name of Johannesburg ). Let me get you familiar with it.
In random order attractions to be visited in Johannesburg:
- Apartheid museum
- Gold Reef City Theme Park – rollercoasters, mini zoo, plenty of restaurants, animation for kids and adults
- Humankind village (Claimed to be the Humankind birth place)
- Sandton – the optional downtown of Johannesburg, with the best hotels and the prestigious Sandton shopping centre, just a walking distance from Mandela square
- Montecasino (the biggest casino complex, built as a copy of an Italian Tuscany town, with bars, restaurants, ice rink, concert halls, shops )
- Magaliesburg – a small amazingly looking town, situated in the field of the mountain, with a beautiful lake nearby
- Lion Park – just next to Johannesburg, a preserved area, where the wildlife could be watched close up
- Sun City – The luxurious city complex with all kind of water attractions, restaurants, artificial beach and waves, casino and the stunning hotel called Lost City Palace
I managed to complete that list. To get it done, I needed to plan my time and to calendar it. I spent some months in South Africa, but right in Joburg a couple of weeks would be enough. No much to be done in there, except the attractions above (plus a few more). Perhaps, I am a bit biased, after I fell in love with Cape Town and was about to ignore the rest. Anyway, I am not going to annoy you, by adding extra explanation to the points above. Lots of information online. What I’ll do is to underline some peculiarities, which burnt my mind in Johannesburg.
Extremely high volume of Crime
I would definitely recommend to stay in Sandton area. There are affordable hotels and guest houses around. You are kind of safe there, which is not very easy to be accomplished in Johannesburg. Be aware, Johannesburg is one of the most dangerous cities in the world and holds the top of all actual criminal ratings. During the day, it’s fairly safe and not so problematic, but you should still be cautious. After the sunset though, the fear takes in charge.
People here intentionally live behind three meter high wall fences, with electrical protection on. Most of the families have a dog, not because they are such pets fans. Lots of crime at night in here. I was warned not to stop at red traffic signal, while driving my car. Sounds like a ridiculous advice, but it’s worth it. The instructions were to just look around, approaching the crossroad and if no other cars around, to drive through, regardless the traffic light colour (traffic lights in Joburg are weirdly called robots).
The reason is the awful trick, applied by the local thieves. They wait right at the traffic light. When a car stops at red light, the thieves quickly open the door, kick the driver out and steal the car with all belongings inside. Often the attacks are accompanied by gun threat. I heard some stories, where the car owner was even killed. In fact, most of the traffic lights (robots) in Johannesburg were broken and were not getting fixed for months, so actually no drama to pass through. Keep your car doors always locked, with windows closed. Park only at secured parking spots, preferably at hotel’s or shopping centre’s underground garage.
It’s also dangerous to be a pedestrian in Joburg , especially at nights. There is a huge risk for the pedestrian to be robbed, raped, killed or like minimum beaten. The number of HIV positive people is really high in here. Most of them were ignored, belittled and devastated. They were frequently under drugs, cannot be controlled or stopped. I would advise dark day hour walking to be skipped. If you are outside for dinner or any other entertainment, call UBER taxi, which is very cheap, popular and reliable in South Africa. There is another taxi company Tuk Tuk, also very cheap. Anyway, I won’t recommend the second one for a night ride. Tuk Tuk cars are kind of open three wheel vehicles.
After all above don’t get scared. I spent few months in Johannesburg, but did not face any violence. Just keep watching and be cautious.
Now/Just Now/Now Now
Another odd speciality of Jozzies (citizens of Johannesburg) is their specific English, with unexpected meaning of the words. What really made me curious and pushed me to investigate it, are the three existing local forms of NOW.
Well…I had no idea the word “Now” could mean something else than ….NOW, but in Johannesburg it’s quite possible. Unfortunately, I learned it in the tough way. Later on, I got a proper training how to recognise the correct meaning of “Now”.
For example, if you ask a Jozzy friend: “When will you come?” and the answer is “Now“, it means this person will come maybe today or maybe not. Usually on the way, but there are so many distractions, that eventually they would not reach your place. After “Now” answer, you are not aware when the action is going to be completed.
The second option sounds more optimistic. The answer “Just now” doesn’t mean the person is coming immediately or is even on their way. It simply means they would definitely come but …undefined time later. It’s normal in Johannesburg, so keep patient.
The third very promising version of the same response is ” Now Now“. That’s very close to the meaning of the word “Now” in English as we know it, but out of Joburg. If you are lucky to get “Now Now” answer, the Joburg translation is going to be…shortly.
Sounds to me similar to the joke about the Christmas tree, where the husband got mad with his wife and started shouting at her:
“You should stop this! You made my head swollen, repeating for six months I should throw the Christmas tree away! I am aware of it and I will.”
He must have been a Jozzy. Well…check on the options above, learn Jozzy English and keep patiently waiting for. That’s Johannesburg, the business centre of South Africa, where everyone is late and it’s considered pretty normal. By reconsidering the expectations of timing and deadlines, you will start understanding correctly the Jozzy English.
Huge Distance, vehicle required
Ohhh…that’s my painful spot. Everything is soooooooooo amazingly far and distant in Johannesburg. You need a car to move in between. In fact you can’t survive without car. Johannesburg doesn’t look like an European city, where you have a city centre, suburbs, built more less around, connected by reasonable public transport. Nothing like this in here.
My impression of Johannesburg is similar with the one I got of New York. When you say New York, it’s not only Manhattan, but also Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and some other neighbourhoods. Same here. Johannesburg is not only Sandton. It’s just a collection of suburbs and neighbourhoods, but no linked by public transport. There are sort of mini busses (shared taxi), but they are overcrowded, smelly and far no safe. Combined with the terrible traffic on rush hours, moving in Johannesburg is a real challenge.
I adore walking, which is impossible in Johannesburg. The infrastructure is completely pedestrian unfriendly. The Jozzies are pedestrian unfriendly too. If you walk, you are considered extremely poor or crazy for crossing Joburg on foot. I was told Johannesburg follows the American type of life – getting in the car even on the way to WC. So briefly…going to buy a bread – car. Go cut your hair – car. Go to the gym – car. Go drink coffee – car. 80% of the Jozzies life is spent in their cars, stuck in the traffic. That’s pretty sad and regretful to me.
Rugby, Chicken pie, Ginger beer and Braai
The Rugby is a religion here. Not only in Johannesburg, but in entire South Africa. I tried to watch and understand the game, but my framed female European brain refused to accept this rough, violent sport. A lot of kicking, hitting, shaking, pushing and elbowing…just out of my zone of tolerance. Surprisingly my Jozzy friends were all crazy about it.
Rugby for the local men is same what is football (soccer) for the European ones. When in Johannesburg a man is watching rugby, his wife, mother, girlfriend or daughter are highly recommended to stay away. Neither to try to talk to, to make any noise or to get in touch with. Being a woman in such situation, better keep it quiet, for avoiding a upcoming storm. Just same like in Europe, when football match is running.
The Chicken pie is kind of a popular traditional meal. The locals would be very proud to introduce you to. I tasted it twice. Well …it was a good experience, but can’t consider it remarkable. Just baked dough with chicken meat and some sauce inside. There were designated spots, where you can buy it, take away as well. Kind of fast food service and many people appreciate it, especially on weekends. I might not be impressed by the chicken pie, but I really fell in love with the Ginger beer. This sparkling slightly harsh taste caught me and I was ready to order it everywhere. But It cannot be found everywhere. I would recommend to taste it.
And finally …braai. That’s another religious story. All Jozzies are crazy about braai, which is the local modification of American BBQ. It’s sort of a mastery or art, to prepare braai in here. Extremely popular and always an occasion to get together with family or friends. There are local and national braai festivals and competitions. As I learned, being part of them is very prestigious.
The Jozzies are great meat eaters and beer drinkers. I would admit the quality and the price of the red meat here, both are incomparable. I saw plenty of really curvy men and women, obviously huge admirers of braai and red meat. Not sure being a vegan or vegetarian is possible in Johannesburg. If braai is a religion in South Africa, being vegetarian might be condemned as a misbelieving here. Just forget about diets and enjoy braai.
Well…After all those above, I remain fairly positive. Johannesburg was a different experience, I can’t compare it with anything else. I won’t regret my stay in there, but really got enough. Especially after I moved later to Cape Town and was able to see the huge difference, which is in Cape Town favour. I fell in love with that city (CPT) immediately, so I can’t hide my lack of admiration to Joburg anymore. But at the same time, I met fantastic Jozzy people, built lifetime friendships with and visited unique places. What I am about to say is, I am glad of being able to get to know Johannesburg, but it was enough. Am I interested in going back to Johannesburg again? No, thank you!