Johannesburg (Jo’burg), is a lively black African city and I encountered the racism still present in South Africa. Nkosazana Dlamini, student friend from Birmingham is at the top of the African National Congress.
I stayed in a guest house run by a welsh couple, Brian and Diane, who migrated to JoBurg in 1975 to work as electronic engineer and nurses respectively, their house and garden is spacious with trees and ibis pecking around in the evenings. They have Welsh kindness and generosity and the attitudes of people moving here 40 years ago. He left his firm when black empowerment was enacted and laments that everything is deteriorating. At supper I was given separate food to 8 black surveyors who were staying. I was offered steak and chips whilst they had beef stew, rice and veggies. I then insisted that I had the same food as the surveyors and did badly as a veggie.
The city ‘s interesting buildings, date from the rapid development during the gold boom and the mining industry (late 19the century). The Apartheid museum, is one of the most powerful museums I have ever visited. The origin of apartheid and it's development were explored with objects, documents about the laws and photos. The colonial origin of apartheid in 1913 when the whites appropriated 92% of the land was a key point with further development after the Second World War. The capitalist imperative driving apartheid was clear, cheap labour was needed to mine gold and farm the land. Communists were good at opposing apartheid in the 1950's because they focussed on worker rights. The African national Congress and Nelson Mandela played a huge role from the in 1960's. The school students challenge in 1976- 1990 was captured in a powerful 15 min film showing the protests and the brutal response of the regime. The political and bureaucratic challenges of the conference at the end of apartheid when they agreed a new regimen were captured. Four elections have been held since. The work of the truth and reconciliation commission was captured. A photo exhibition documented the poverty that the apartheid regimen produced.
I used the fast modern commuter train from close to the airport into the city centre. The commuters were 85 % black. The station car park is full of new cars and feels v American.
I explored Soweto in minibuses driven by Sowetan locals who talked about life there. 4 million people live there in conditions that have improved hugely since democracy started. We saw the soccer stadium and a memorial for a student (Hector Peterson) shot in 1976. Nelson Mandela’s home is a fascinating and moving museum. He lived there for a few years in the 1950’s in a tiny 2 roomed house with a coal stove to cook on and no running water. They built a brick wall in 1976 to withstand the frequent police raids.
I had not expected to see a former face from my student house share in Birmingham (Tindal St ) on the news here nightly. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lived with us in Tindal St. in 1980. She was a South African medical student and joined Birmingham University because Bill Hoffenburg, the prof of medicine had fled the regime and was sympathetic to S Africans. She went back to SA after Nelson Mandela’s release. She married Jacob Zuma, a prominent ANC person who became president (2009-2017). She was minister of state for social affairs and her department has messed up the contract for monthly social grants given to 8 million people. A high court action brought against the department of social affairs found that her department had been negligent in administration. This is important because she is a candidate for being the next president of South Africa. During my stay Jacob Zuma sacked half his cabinet including the respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan. If Nkosazana was the next president she would protect her ex-husband from the corruption charges that he may face when he leaves office.
I enjoyed being in Jo’burg which feels African and lively. I had not expected it to be so politically interesting and that the history of apartheid would have an immediacy.
Footnote: Nkosazana did then stand for being president in the ANC elections in December 2017 but these were won by Cyril Ramphosa who is now President of S. Africa.