I once read an article on a website stating that Johannesburg had made determined efforts to crack down on crime, creating a local police force, the Metro Police, and installing some 200 "crime watch" video cameras in the inner city giving room to very encouraging results; And a report from the respected independent "think tank", the Institute of Security Studies, showed that the risk of becoming a victim of violent crime in Johannesburg was now lower than in a traditional "holiday" venue like the Western Cape.
But the “doubting Thomas” in me wanted to see for himself, so I entrusted myself with the supposedly deadly mission to cruise the streets of Johannesburg CBD.
From the mother city I purchased one train ticket to the city of gold, and after two days long trip there I was in Johannesburg park station, which is undoubtedly Africa’s biggest town.
Johannesburg history extends back thousands of years to when it was inhabited by hunter-gatherer peoples. The city was formally established in 1886 with the discovery of gold and the Witwatersrand reef. After the discovery of gold, started a mass migration of people from all over the world into the settlement to find gold, the population of the city exploded, and Johannesburg became the largest city in South Africa.
This type of migration has never stopped, making Johannesburg a pure melting pot.
So there I was going, moving away from park station, walking down the streets of Johannesburg, Harrison Street, Bree Street, etc... I was told that my expensive cell phone wouldn’t survive the trip, so I had to leave it home together with anything that had sentimental value for me!
I was set to meet the now famous Johannesburg Tsotsi, a dodgy character that steals, lies and generally is not to be trusted; But instead I was agreeably surprised to see an imposing police presence, and that was at least enough to bring me back reassurances, and there I was walking even taller, greatly more conscious of the soon coming success of my mission, my so called bold escapade. Now that being robbed or shot dead was a fading idea in my head, premature conclusions started rushing in my mind.
Most of Johannesburg Streets were covered with refuses that probably had not been removed for ages; maybe those in charge of waste removal were striking again, in South Africa strikes start and stop before we even knew about them.
As I walked through, street after street, I also realized to my deepest astonishment that the eleven official languages were by far less spoken here; they’ve been overwhelmingly replaced by some other African dialects, Arabic, French, Portuguese or English spoken with a so strange accent that it shouldn’t be called English anymore. In fact streets were filled with small businesses owned mainly by foreign nationals coming from as far afield as Nigeria, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon, etc...
I couldn’t find even at least one white person walking on the street at all, nevertheless few of them could be seen driving away in their cars; people of different skin color, dominated by black fellows, were busy rushing from side to side; but on the street of central Johannesburg the white fellow is the species in threat of extinction, some says that it’s due to the fact that they feel uncomfortable as a minority on streets which were once their exclusive preserve, whatever!
After the group areas Act was scrapped in the 1990’s thousands of people who had been forbidden to live in the inner city flowed into the city centre, the white then started running away to the northern suburbs and Sandton together with their businesses turning their back to a then deteriorating Johannesburg CBD, the CBD since fell under the grip of foreign immigrants who own small business, selling fruits, cheap clothes and some other articles.
Since the end of apartheid, South African urban expansion has deeply benefited from this phenomenon where the rich white population is continuously building new areas in a bid to dwell as far as possible from the poor black population that can’t help it following bringing along a high level of crime, at least that was one of the explanations given to me by some anonymous people.
I walked up and down all across the city of gold, ending my journey with a visit the top of the Carlton center, which used to be the largest building in Africa, to get a broad view of Johannesburg; and as I’m taking this long distance bus for my trip back to cape town, this one day journey into the heart of Gauteng taught me more than I expected, most importantly I wasn’t robbed nor shot at all, but I’m leaving this town with a changed view and to my eyes this city now looks like an African city more than just a south African one.