Last fall, I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa. I fell in love with the country through books over a decade ago and I knew that I had to go someday. In my last blog post, I review my Travel Noire TN Experience in Johannesburg. If you haven't read it, you can find here. In this post, I will not discuss details about my TN Experience. This will focus on my free time in Johannesburg.
When we walked out of immigration, there were tons of taxi drivers asking if we needed a ride to our destination. We politely declined as we waited for our shuttle. One man stopped us and asked if it was our first time in South Africa. When we said yes, he responded, "Welcome home." That was the vibe the entire time that I was there. Folks made us feel like we were home. It is very easy to feel like you don't belong as a black woman living in the US, so it was very refreshing to be welcomed and embraced in this way. South Africans were glad that we came to visit and kept giving us reasons to come back. The man asked for our names. He decided mine wasn't African enough, so he actually gave me a South African name. He called me Mpoh, which means gifted in Tswana.
As we were strolling through Soweto, we received a free history lesson outside of the Hector Pieterson Museum. Hector was murdered at the hand of police on June 16, 1976 at the age of 12. On the day of his death, Hector and many other students were peacefully protesting a new law that required students to be taught in Afrikaans. Hector was the first child murdered during this battle. As I listened to the story, I was shaking. It wasn't the history that shook me, but what it did to shape South Africa's present. South Africans have forgiven the police and their government for murdering innocent children. June 16 is now a major holiday in South Africa - Youth Day.
In the land of Mandela, you can see his influence on every street corner. Nelson Mandela presence can be felt everywhere. On our free day, we visited the Apartheid Museum. When you purchase your ticket, you're handed a card that says "White" or "non"White" that determined which entrance to use. Mine was "non-White." When I walked into the Museum, there were blown up identity card of black and colored people strewn across the walls. We saw signs that excluded black and colored people from certain places.
The first half of the museum was about the history behind Apartheid. The second half focused on the life and death of Nelson Mandela. When I walked into the second half of the museum, I started crying hysterically. I don't even remember the last time I cried that hard. There were images, videos, letters, and memorabilia. I fell in love with South Africa through Mandela. To be experiencing his life so up close and person was almost too much to handle. Every time I got myself together, I'd see something, or hear something, and start blubbering again. There is a replica of his prison cell in the museum that people can go in and sit down to watch a quick film. I just saw the replica and cried. At one point, a group of students on a field trip walked by, and I thought that was so beautiful, I cried some more. Toward the end of the museum, there were films of Mandela as president. There was one where he spoke to a classmate of his grandson and everything about it reminded me of President Obama and how he would be leaving office soon, and that just about did it for me. I have never had an experience that surreal.
When we finished our blubbering, we left the museum and headed to the Lion safari. All we wanted to do after an hour and a half of crying was play with lion cubs. We started with the safari. The lions are separated into 4 camps. In between the camps, there are open spaces where you will spot other animals like zebras, ostriches. antelopes, wildebeests, and hyenas. There were smaller closed off areas where we could see leopards and cheetahs as well. When we got into the jeep, they placed gates on the sides when traveling through the lion dens. The first group of lions paid us no mind at all. The second group looked up from their naps, but also didn't care to engage. That last group of lions, though, had me praying to get home in one piece.
We were told about how one of these lions murdered a woman. As if we weren't freaking out to begin with, these lions started to get aggressive. They were chewing on the tires, bumpers, and mirrors of the jeep. Our guide cracked his window open and actually hit one of the lions on the head to get him to back off. It was a cool experience, but I was mortified. After about 5 minutes, the guide said it was time to go because these lions weren't playing any more. They were ready for more.
When ended our lion safari, we were off to play with lion cubs. When a lion has too many cubs to take care of, they will abandon the weakest of the group. Staff take care of these cubs until they can be moved over to a different safari. The cubs were adorable, and their fur was extremely soft. It was like petting a teddy bear. We were told not to let them look us in the eye (they're cute but they're still lions). So of course when it's my turn, the cub starts looking me in the eyes. Naturally, I freak out and start screaming a little bit. They were not aggressive though and it was completely fine.
There was also an opportunity to feed the giraffes (feeding is free, must purchase the food). It was getting dark so we didn't get to. We followed the giraffes along the fence and it was still pretty cool. If you decide to go to the lion safari, make sure you secure your ride back because you will not get an uber from there. It's a gray zone for uber so you will get stuck without a pre-arranged ride.
We finished off the night with dinner at the Sandton Mall. I think the cuisine of South Africa warrants its own post, but I think I enjoyed seafood every which way it was prepared with a glass (or a bottle) of South African wine. Their wine is world class incredible.
There is a lot to see and a lot to do in Johannesburg. Give yourself time to walk and explore at your own pace, so that you are not overwhelmed by all of the beauty and excitement of the city. Connect with people. Let go of some of your fears, and live a little. It will be the trip of a lifetime. There were a few things on my list that I didn't get to do, like bungee jumping in Soweto, and skydiving. Johannesburg is also close to Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, where there is even more history to explore.
Have you been to Johannesburg? What are some of the thing that you did while there? Let me know in the comments!