Posted by: Dave | June 19, 2010

2 Days in Johannesburg

I only planned for 2 days in Johannesburg for a reason. It has a nasty crime reputation and as the largest city in a country that generally lacks order you can imagine the transportation situation. And, it’s been an interesting two days to say the least.

One of the “things to do” in Joburg, is visit nearby Soweto – the Southwest Township – which is the area developed under Apartheid to house those who didn’t meet the race specifications on the white, controlling government.  I can’t even write about Apartheid without sounding completely blunt and shocking you, so it’s probably best if you do some research separately.  Try here and here . Let’s just point out that 80% of this country is non-white, and for most of the 20th century the whites controlled everything and developed a formal system of segregation that makes the segregation in the US seem amateur. And one of the most shocking elements is that it was just finding its feet as our segregation was ending.  Apartheid lasted INTO THE 1990s! Although most South Africans have really embraced to mutli-racial, multi-cultural society, there are still many, many lingering effects of a long-lasting system of oppression that only ended 14 years ago or so.

Greeted by some kids as we walk into a Soweto community

Soweto is now a “city” of 3 million, and although it has a mall, several millionaires and some nicer neighborhoods, it is not safe for tourists who don’t know what they’re doing.  We arranged for a guide to meet us at the airport and take us to Soweto and to the Apartheid Museum (which was modeled after the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC).   Our first stop in Soweto was not Mandela’s birthplace, or Reverend Tutu’s current home, but rather the shantytowns that we’ve seen on tv and in photos. Just in the middle of everything, right off of a bustling street, is one of many collections of corrugated iron, salvaged wood, and many other miscellaneous items that people use to create their homes.  I thought I was prepared for it. I’ve seen poverty in other parts of the world.  But this was far heavier than I expected.

A local guide met us to take us safely into the “neighborhood” of 20,000, and we were met by beautiful smiling children and immense poverty.  We weren’t in an area that is entirely untouched by tourists – we saw 2 other groups like us while we were there – but these people live in a way that certainly isn’t supported by tourism. One woman showed us her home – a rectangular shack no bigger than 10×15 with one bed and a kerosene burner. And this is what she shares with her husband and 2 kids.    Here are a few pics:

A face of Soweto

Kids love cameras

We were told not to give money to the kids because it teaches them not to beg. So hard to resist, but we had to.

Home for four people

Doing what can be done to make for a "comfortable" home


I’m still trying to fully absorb that visit to the township.

As I mentioned, we also visited the Apartheid Museum in Soweto, which is extremely well done and immense. We spent about 3.5 hours in the museum and needed more time (another day?) to really absorb it. If you’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in DC then you know that feeling.  Seeing video from the 60s, 70s and 80s and hearing the words of the Afrikaner government is a sickening feeling.

Other than that, we spent an evening in a swanky shopping district called Melrose Arch, where we ate steak and watched the World Cup on a giant screen with a few hundred people from just about every nation in the World Cup (and probably more).  Melrose Arch might as well be in Scottsdale or DC or Seattle or anywhere in the US – shiny and new… and safe.

Oh… did I mention that it’s ZERO degrees celcius here?  For us non-metric Americans, that’s 32 degrees farenheit. Not exactly comfortable. It’s winter of course, but freezing temps are relatively uncharacteristic for Joburg and this area of the country.

World Cup

But the main reason we’re in Johannesburg was to go to the USA-Slovenia match last night. What a fantastic experience and it’s exactly what’s great about the World Cup, soccer as the world’s sport, and also just the experiences of traveling.

Heading to the game, we had a group of 10… which included 2 random Slovenian guys who are staying at the same guest house as me.  For those of you keeping score at home, the 6 other friends were Wodey and Mackerer (who we can’t seem to shake), W&M soccer legend Brody and his friend Aaron (who both flew down from Abu Dhabi), and Keith Gorman and his wife Cory.  Awesome to get together with a great group of friends halfway around the globe.

Beers 4 Kids!

On our walk from the parking area to the stadium, we were enticed into a schoolyard where the teachers were hosting a fundraiser for the school. Beers, brats and loud soccer fans. How can you possibly beat a “Beers 4 Kids” pre-game?! Yeah… not sure why I blurted that out, but it stuck.  I bought 8 beers for R120… which is about $15.  We ended up rercruiting many, many people for the school, and I think they’ll be happy with the Americans’ “Beers 4 Kids” marketing strategy (including “Drink more beer, create more opportunities!”). We talked to Americans from around the country, South Africans who were coming to check out the World Cup, and Slovenian fans who were riding high from their 1-0 win over Algeria the other day. With a Castle Lager in hand, it was a great afternoon.

Not sure why our team likes to scare the bejesus out of us and dig a hole in every game, but Slovenia looked great in the first half and a 2-0 lead looked insurmountable.  Where else can a country of 2 million people take it to a country of 300 million?   That’s what’s great about soccer – and the World Cup. Any team can take on any team. This World Cup has been no exception. North Korea fought bravely with mighty Brazil, Switzerland beat World Cup favorites Spain (who have now only lost to the Swiss and Americans IN THE LAST 48 games), and Algeria drew with England. I love it.

Slovenia deserved their lead against us last night.  But we deserved the 2 (3, actually) goals that we got in the second half. What a game. The crowd was overwhelmingly American, and the neutral South African supporters around us all seemed to be behind the US too.  It’s funny… i think this is the first country I’ve been to where I feel like the USA is a fan favorite.


It’s also awesome to see genuine pride in the red, white and blue. Seeing our awesome flag EVERYWHERE is a great feeling… and there were people dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Captain America, Uncle Sam and just about every collection of stars and stripes outfits you can imagine.  You probably won’t see a scene like that anywhere but a USA World Cup game. I hope some of that was captured by ESPN and shown back at home.

I’m not going to get into an assessment of the match. As long as we beat Algeria on the 23rd, we’re through to the next round, and that’s all that matters. Controlling their own destiny is all any team can ask for.
We’re off to nearby Pretoria (the national capital city) tonight to see Cameroon-Denmark, then to Cape Town tomorrow. Can’t wait to get back to the warmer temps of the coastal cities.  I think I did the right thing by limiting time in Joburg. I’m ready to head out of here.

Thanks for checking in. Go USA (and Australia and South Africa).


  1. Great blog Dave! I am really enjoying your perspective. Keep it up!

  2. Hi Dave
    Just so you know that I am paying attention and keeping up….see you soon……..lee

  3. Awesome Da-veed! I love reading about this. Sounds like an incredible experience and I wish I was there! Fortunately, the atmosphere in SF is great… people are spilling out of bars at 7am getting behind the World Cup and USA, it’s great! Keep the updates coming 🙂

  4. Epic updates brother. Our new arrival derailed our attendance but I appreciate the ground level details.

    I followed your same path about 10 years ago and you’re bringing back great memories. Keep em coming. Stay safe, drink more and slap the first person that says the word “shame”

  5. I am enjoying your blog. Makes me sad to hear about all the poverty. What a great experience for you. Stay safe.

  6. dave…loving the blog and amazing photos!!!!!

  7. Can’t wait for the next post! Your pictures inspired me to finally go out and buy a macro lens (canon’s 100mm 2.8L). Was out in Central Park’s botanical garden shooting bees pollenating flowers, etc. Results are pretty amazing, but macro is a major challenge without a tripod. I think you’ll love it.

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