HOW IS JOHANNESBURG ?
It's true that Johannesburg hasn't the best reputation, but's a city that hide an incredible and complex history : the Apartheid's city. It's also a city full of incredible cultural diversities, which we don't talk enough about. I asked several South Africans to describe the country in 3 words : the things they said the most were "friendly, diverse and natural". And I totally agree, people smile with genuine kindness and are warm, cultures and languages are very different, and nature is omnipresent in the country. I might have felt in love with South Africa, because it's now one of my favorite country ever.
Johannesburg is the most populous city in South Africa with around 5 million inhabitants including 1 million in Soweto.
Here is a list of things you need to in Johannesburg based on my own experiences !
1 - Soweto
I'm not going to lie, Soweto can be a dangerous places for foreigners. It’s a huge district with about 1 million inhabitants, which groups the poorest population of Johannesburg with a lot of slums. Some areas are however accessible with a guide (which is what I did) because I find it important to see the living conditions of different inhabitants and to realize the needs of the country.
What I saw from Soweto was special : at the same time very colorful, warm and sometimes, we feel that we should not get out of the car. But I still feel like this is a place where a lot happen, with a huge history behind it and I loved it.
2 - Hector Pietersen memorial of Soweto
As I told you, Johannesburg is a city full of history and carrying a very heavy past. In 1976, many demonstrations were organized by black South African students, protesting against the official introduction of the Afrikaans language in education, which was considered discriminatory against traditional indigenous languages. It was therefore necessary to demonstrate in the streets of Soweto to show its dissatisfaction and the government responded to these demonstrations with live ammunition (in order to disperse the crowd) on June 16, 1976.
But, there were approximately 700 students that died in this protest. So you can go and see Mandela's tribute to these students who died for the freedom of the country, with a memorial.
PS: In South Africa, June 16, 1976 is now a public holiday and it is youth day.
2- Mandela's House
At 8115 Vilakazi St Orlando West in Soweto you will find the home of a man who has changed history. I read all the books, saw all the films that retrace the life of Nelson Mandela and this house as well as its history gives shivers. It's vibrant to be on the street, in the house where he lived for so long. The arrival in the Orlando West district is very exotic, it is very colorful, very musical but quite touristy. We are approached very quickly, by sellers of hats, bracelets, clothes ... etc, some sing, dance to get our attention, and some "thanks".
But it is a very warm place, people say hello, welcome us with big smiles and are natural. The house is small and full of Mandela treasures, including Nobel prizes, quotes, awards, diplomas, letters, photos, souvenirs ... etc. The house keeps the marks of apartheid with the shards of bullets on the walls, the photos and the testimonies (it will give you chills, believe me). In short, you have to see that.
3- Maboneng precinct district
An old deserted industrial area, which is becoming a trendy district? Yes yes, it exists at Johannesburg. Thanks to some private investors, this part of the city has been able to benefit from a revival : there are plenty of different restaurants, art galleries, some shops selling typical products and in every street corner there is street art (I admit I'm a fan of street art so I took too many photoooos).
I also had the chance to see musicians lend themselves to street music, bringing a cool atmosphere and amateur painters selling their arts. Stands for bracelets, clothes with African motifs, animal sculptures, bobs (people must love that, there are on sale everywhere) fill the streets, attracting tourists. On the security side, I personally found the area completely safe during the day.
4 - Apartheid's museum
If there is one place to see in Johannesburg it is this museum. He is very touching and he traces the history of apartheid and the life of Nelson Mandela better than anyone. South Africans are very attached to it and have an immense respect for everything that is represented there. The visit lasts about 2h30 / 3h and believe me, it's worth it. The chills are present during most of the visit, when we hear "Asimbonanga" by Johnny Clegg, images of crowds raising the point while being beaten, of people singing while running in the streets of Johannesburg, images of sudden torture in prison (I have chills just to write about that), Mandela's quotes written on the walls, next to "non-white people only" signs.
In addition to that, the museum is really well organized and full of works of art. Honestly, if you go to Johannesburg you can not not go there!
5 - Melrose Arch precinct
Looking for nice and typical restaurants in Johannesburg located in a quiet area? Then the Melrose Arch square is perfect! It is a nice place with various rather high-end restaurants (and which are 2 times cheaper than the high-end in France). If you are more meaty, I recommend "The Grillhouse" one of the best restaurants in Johannesburg!