4 Important Places to Visit in Johannesburg, South Africa
After 2 days in Cape Town (read my post on 5 Awesome Places to Visit in Cape Town), I took a 2-hour flight and landed in Johannesburg ready to speak at Social Media Week Jozi and excited for almost 4 days of adventures.
I truly didn’t realize I would have as good of a time that I did and I was actually missing the Mother City. My amazing friend Mimi Selemela (of Afrika Reads) was my tour guide for my time in Jozi and that did a world of good. You really get to see a different side of a city when you have someone who lives there show you around.
My time in Joburg felt far too short and by the time I left, I was itching to come back. I saw so many places, we drove around everywhere and I learned much about the city. I was using the hashtag #JoburgLuvv to bring you along with me.
There were 4 places we went that I went that I think you should put on your MUST GO list if you end up in Joburg.
The Lion Park
The Lion Park is right outside of Johannesburg, in Lanseria and it’s a wild life habitat where you can see zebras, antelopes, cheetahs, meerkats and more. It’s a wide expansive space and the animals have a lot of room to roam. There was a gorgeous giraffe walking around like it owned the place and I loved it!
The park has baby lions there that you can interact with. We found out that they’re in the cages because they’re the ones whose mothers rejected them. Instead of them being eaten by said mothers (yes, it happens), they made it out. They are all less than 6 months old and this is before their killer instinct kicks all the way in so people are allowed to pet them. Even so, when in their presence, people are warned not to run. Don’t alarm them, approach them from the back and pet them firmly (not all soft).
The park is most famous for its lion safari, where you drive through all the various camps and get to watch the giant cats do what they do. It’s an hour long tour and you can either make the drive in your own car (why the hell would you want to?) or get in one of the park’s gated trucks and have a tour guide take you through. It’s best to go around 4 or 5pm because that is when the lions wake up and start getting active. We were told that if you come early in the day, you might just be there watching them all nap. Not as fun.
This was my favorite pair of lions because he was so committed to being next to her. When she’d move, he’d move (just like that). Aawww Lion Baes!
Lions are very much tied to the “Africa” story that’s often told but they do not live in people’s backyards and you don’t stumble on one in the street. But they’re truly majestic and being able to see them up close is a great experience!
While in Johannesburg, you must visit Soweto, an area in Guateng. Soweto is actually short for South Western Townships. It’s there that you can visit some historical sites and museums. You can go to a market and buy some beautiful jewelry, paintings and other local crafts.
Soweto is significant for no many reasons but part of it is because Black South Africans were pushed to live there during apartheid. And as Black folks are prone to do, we make the best out of everything, and dope art and music started developing there.
It is in Soweto that the next 2 places are located.
Nelson Mandela House
The Nelson Mandela House is on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Joburg. He lived there (with his family) since the 1940s and for 11 days after he was released. He had to move for his safety because the entire world descended on that house when he got out of prison in 1991.
The tour guides at the house on the day we went were college students volunteering their time and working off tips. Since it was Heritage Day in South Africa, admittance was free.
We saw the bullet holes in the walls where police used to shoot at the house. The family had to erect a waist high wall in their kitchen to hide behind for when shooting began. These are the things they had to deal with because Nelson and Winnie were freedom fighters. In fact, the Mandela House is renovated because at one point, it was firebombed.
What remains there are replicas of a lot of the furniture and their kitchen stove. But there’s also originals of his numerous honorary degrees from universities from all over world as well as awards he’s received.
Vilakazi Street is one of the most famous places in the world because Bishop Desmond Tutu’s former house is there too. It is the only place that two Nobel Peace Prize winners have lived.
Hector Pieterson Museum
In 1976, South African students (from several schools) united for a peaceful protest against the mandate that Afrikaans (a dutch-based language) be used for study in school. Police showed up and shot into the crowd, killing 200 students. Hector Pieterson was a 13-year old boy who was one of the first people killed and a photographer captured his body being carried by another student (Mbuyisa Makhubu) while his sister weeps next to them. That picture (below) really became the symbol for the injustice that happened there. Hector did too.
The Hector Pieterson Museum is dedicated to telling the story of what happened that day and in the aftermath. Mbuyisa fled the country after the picture got out because his act of heroism put his life in danger, and he was never to be seen again by his loved ones. No one knows whether he is dead or alive.
It’s so tragic and it’s jarring to feel like it could also happen here, in the United States. We can look at Ferguson and see that. One particular picture in the museum that made me feel gut-punched (besides the one above) is one that showed students protesting the freedom of some of their arrested counterparts. The phrase “Don’t Shoot” is written on their chalkboard and their hands are up.
I flew to the other side of the world just to be reminded that the struggles of Black people are the same everywhere. From Soweto in 1976 to Ferguson in 2014, we keep fighting for freedom and equality. We are all intrinsically connected and all the world is a giant mirror.
I learned just a tiny bit more about South Africa’s incredibly complex history of race, apartheid and power dynamics. In a country where Black people are the overwhelming majority (numbers-wise), white people are still in control. I didn’t get a chance to go to the Apartheid Museum but it’s on my list for next time.
These are the stories we don’t hear about as we fight for ourselves but they’re the ones we need to remember so we know we’re a part of something greater than us.
In the center of Johannesburg is a hill that gives the best view of the entire city. It’s not as well-known as other spots but it offers some breathtaking visuals. I mean WOW. Here, people come to pray, because they feel like God is present there, hence the moniker “Holy Hill.” I don’t blame them.
I stood and looked out unto the city (as a final stop before heading to the airport to fly back to the U.S.) and I did feel blessed. I was drunk with gratitude for that moment and for that place. I reflected on the journey that has taken me there and I was affirmed that I am on the right path.
In Cape Town, I saw beauty and in Johannesburg, I felt history. In both places, I felt humbled because they left a print on me that I’m still processing.
Thank you to South Africa for feeding me, teaching me and humbling me. Thanks to my peoples Britni Danielle and Ian Conyers for being the best travel buddies. Thank you to Mimi and Victor Dlamini for being the best guides EVER. And thank God for my journey and traveling mercies.
This trip to South Africa lit a spark in me and I am on a mission to see even more of the world and become more of a global citizen. Why? Because traveling is the best education and this Naija gal is starving for more! I’m honored to be able to share this experience with y’all, so thanks for coming along with me!