My first day in Johannesburg, or Jo’burg to the locals, my friends Philip and Sue took me for a tour of all the cool old haunts. This is the Radium Beer Hall, which has been a operating as a local pub non-stop since 1926. It was one of the first bars in the country to intergrate, long before the end of Apartheid. We came that evening for some kicking live music
Me in front of the giant Nelson Mandela statue in Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton City in the Northern Suburbs. Every tourist has to do this. I covered Mandela when he was South African President, and he’s personal hero of mine, as well every other South African from one side of the political and racial spectrum, to the other.
My hosts, Sue, Heather, and Philip. Sue and I became close friends during our time working at the Durban area newspapers.
Jo’burg is far safer than most non-Jo’burg residents would think, but still, don’t be a schmuck. I took the precaution of clipping my camera belt pack to a chair during lunch.
We had the good luck to run in to a good friend of both Sue and I, Michael Schmidt. Michael and I covered one of the worst atrocities of low intensity civil war that hit South Africa after the 1994 election. Twenty villagers were slaughtered by their neighbours on Christmas Day 1995, and ours was the definitive coverage of the event. It hit me so hard that I never really went back to covering conflicts after that. Michael has been to the West Bank, Darfour, the Congo, and just about every African hot spot since. Now he runs a foundation that trains journalists in developing countries.
I think Jo’burg is a little like Michael, Sue, and I. We’ve grown more mature with the years, and the restless dangerous parts of us have mellowed. Twelve years ago, Jo’burg was a tense place, where you watched yourself all the time. Now, as long as you stay out of the scary parts of town (just like visiting any other city), it’s pleasant and laid back with a friendly population, a thriving arts and culture scene, and great place to spend a few days.
I’ve collected my anti-mlarial pills, kissed Sue good bye, and now I’m off to Zimbabwe.