Arriving in a new city can be a daunting experience for even the most seasoned traveller. You step out of your shuttle and you’re suddenly faced with the unknown – a city of concrete you have never visited before, with millions of foreign speaking people you have never met and a culture you have never experienced. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, you have a city which is not only the largest in South Africa (covering 1 645 square kilometres), but also shelters one of the most compelling rags to riches stories in Africa. Combine all these factors and you’re left with an unmistakably colourful city dripping in history and cultural significance which has not been without its fair share of bad press. But this brings us to the topic at hand – how does one survive in a city renowned for its heritage and hospitable nature and notorious for its congestion and crime?
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Firstly – here are few countries in the world that can boast about being entirely free of crime and general decay, so choosing to avoid Johannesburg because of nefarious news headlines would only lead to you missing out on an incredibly enriching experience because of fear. 4.4 Million people (based on a 2011 census) and a large number of expats would not be living happily in the city if things were as reprehensible as the media reports. However, Johannesburg is a vast metropolis, and crime is rife within those city limits (as it is in most large cities), so embracing a lifestyle of reckless abandon and disregard for safety is not recommended – be cautious and aware of your surroundings and consider the subsequent notes on how to survive in the heartbeat of South Africa:
- Following the discovery of gold in 1886, the city of Johannesburg experienced a surge in architectural and industrial development and a mass migration of people. This led to the city becoming the richest gold mining area in the world. Needless to say, the discovery of Witwatersrand’s gold bearing reefs catapulted the previously struggling city into wealth and made Johannesburg the city it is today. Joburgers are extremely proud of their city as a result, so familiarizing yourself with the city’s history would be a tremendous advantage.
- Johannesburg is made up of nine main areas: Fourways, Midrand, Tembisa, Kempton Park, East Rand, Sandton, Randburg, the City Centre and Soweto. Within those areas are a number of smaller areas and suburbs. If you are travelling to Johannesburg or relocating, learning the geographical layout of the city and the reputation of each area is essential in order to ensure you do not end up lost in a sordid part of town. This sort of knowledge could save your life.
- As the traffic capital of South Africa (Cape Town only recently took the lead), Johannesburg experiences dreadful congestion on its major freeways. Luckily for residents and visitors, there are a number of alternative modes of transport when travelling around the city. Learning how the public transport system works will prove to be invaluable – not only will you save money, but it will also make a significant difference to daily travelling times. Some of these options include:
- The Gautrain (an 80 -kilometre mass rapid transit railway system) which was launched in 2010 and is set to change the face of transportation in Johannesburg.
- Rea Vaya is a bus service which operates along dedicated routes in a number of areas and offers fast service and cheap fare.
- Along with these 2 transport systems, there is also a metro railway, and an abundance of minibus taxis and metered taxis. Extreme caution is advised when making use of public transport – particularly if you are not familiar with the routes and how they work.
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- The easiest way to connect with locals is to learn their lingo. Almost half the population in Johannesburg is comprised of black Africans, while the other half comprises of ethnicities such as Caucasian, Coloured and Asian. Demographics show IsiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, Sepedi and English are the most widely spoken languages. Perhaps the best thing you could do before travelling to Johannesburg is learn some of the local dialect. This will help you feel more connected with the various cultures and, most importantly, help you communicate with locals (in a social and service situation) and gain their respect. Learning basic words and phrases in the different languages will go a long way – just make sure you are able to recognize the different languages as replying to a Xhosa speaking person in Sesotho could lead to a potentially awkward situation.
- One of the most important things you could do for your psyche if you’re a city dweller, is ensure you get out of the city once in a while. City living is an amazing privilege and is bound to seduce you with its big flashing lights, throngs of strange and interesting people and the old thrill of feeling as though you’re at the center of the universe. But people tend to forget there is a whole world out there, and sometimes venturing out of the city limits and swapping the lacklustre greys and browns for blazing greens and blues can be inspiring and utterly rejuvenating. Even urbanites need to reconnect with nature sometimes.
- Culture is a huge part of Johannesburg – the newly introduced plan to rebrand the city as the ‘culture capital of South Africa’ proves this. When travelling to Johannesburg, you should be aware of any cultural events and attractions and visit them, as they give the city its unique disposition and are important for economic growth. Similarly, if you live in the city, supporting the culture will not only help you understand and appreciate the city you live in, but it will endorse local artists, venues and events and ultimately, promote the city.
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