We weren’t prepared for what we found...
03.06.2008 - 03.07.2008 73 °F
Carol had arranged a Safari in Botswana through the Africa Adventure Company. They had prepared a fantastic itinerary for us that began with Victoria Falls. It turns out that the only way we could fly into Victoria falls from Accra, was to fly through Johannesburg. We didn’t want to miss out on the city, so we stayed 2 nights to get sense for what Joburg (as the locals call it) was all about. We had heard what a tough and dangerous city it is. We had heard about muggings, car-jackings, a generally high crime rate, and we had even heard of cars armed with flame throwing undercarriages to thwart would be car-jackers. We weren’t prepared for what we found. Johannesburg is a modern and beautiful city that rivals any of the big cities to which we had traveled; Fantastic residential areas, a real downtown, modern shopping malls, wonderful weather, great people, beautiful scenery, first-rate golf courses, and an actual bargain compared with the US dollar. It is true that there are areas in Joburg that you want to steer clear of, just like any big city in the US, but overall, we thought the city was awesome and we wished we had a chance to spend a few more days here.
Rolling in from the airport, we found ourselves being whisked along on an 8 lane freeway that rivals anything in the states, and we unfortunately ran into traffic that jam-packed every lane. Getting off the freeways to make better time is an expertise most professional drivers have, and ours did this with aplomb, making sure to drive through an idyllic residential area. We drove by stately manors, the golf course where Gary Player earned his badge, and we even drove by Nelson Mandela’s house that was quite tasteful and featured armed guards on the fence perimeters. This was akin to Beverly Hills of South Africa, with about a 70% price discount. We arrived at our hotel (the Park Hyatt) and were pleased to find it was situated within a shopping area with great restaurants and all the modern conveniences we lacked in Accra. Yes, I said conveniences.
The boys hadn’t been to a skate park in a long time, and we had found (via the web) that there was a great one in a nearby Joburg suburb. We hired a driver, and went to the park at the “Monte Casino” which is a hotel, casino, and boardwalk mall that looks like a direct rip off of the Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas, replacing the roman theme with a slightly more modern Italy. Faux blue skies adorned the ceiling of the mall area, and the shops were bustling. The skate park was a cool and clean indoor facility, and the staff and the skaters were all very nice. The boys skated for 3 hours after doing some school work and both had a great time as they burned off weeks of steam, in non skate-friendly Accra.
The only serious thing on our agenda while in Joburg was to tour the Apartheid Museum, which was across town from our hotel. We drove through the downtown area and headed toward Soweto. The museum was in the Gold Casino area, and it was part of a large complex that includes a theme park, a casino, and a hotel. Seems there are only two major casinos in the Joburg area, and we hit both of them in the same day. The museum was an incredible experience and gave all of us an education about the history of South African apartheid, how the concept evolved and how horrible it was for anyone who wasn’t a blanc (white). It was mind blowing to see firsthand how a government passed laws mandating segregation. It was equally mind blowing to watch a video of the leader of South Africa introducing the new laws, and calling apartheid “a good neighbor law”. There were individual stories of how apartheid affected Blacks, Indians, and Asians, (basically non whites). It was heart breaking.
There were documented stories of killings instrumented by the government, ridding the country of anti-apartheid demonstrators. It was quite amazing to all of us that a minority government could have held back the vast black majority for so long, and equally astounding was that the apartheid was reversed without a major war. Many people died in the struggle to rid South Africa of apartheid, but there was no civil war. You have to applaud any government that is willing to open the scars of a broken policy, and bear ownership for so many wrong deeds, so many deaths, and so much wrongheadedness. The only other example I can think of is the Holocaust museum and the Jewish Memorial in Berlin. We talked as a family and agreed that the American government could take note and think about doing something similar around the subject of slavery or the American Indian.