Is It Worth Visiting Johannesburg?

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As with everything I write and share, this is purely my opinion based on my experience.

My first time in Africa was marked by my arrival in Cape Town on the southern tip of South Africa at some point in mid-November. A week there was more than enough to make me fall completely in love with the city.

With a friend of mine from Salzburg, we then ventured across the southern part of this vast and varied continent for a challenging and rewarding southern Africa roadtrip that would see us exploring six diverse countries and having life-changing experiences. We undertook such an intense adventure, witnessing surreal landscapes and facing adverse struggles, that we both came out of it exhausted and pushed to the very limits of our comfort zones, yet utterly grateful for the privilege of such an experience.

I then faced another solo month on the continent. And so the struggle to decompress and comprehend the wildness of our roadtrip and process what we'd been through laid the foundation of my week in Johannesburg, the end point of our southern African roadtrip. I was dropped off at the Curiocity Hostel in the heart of Maboneng.

We felt despair and heightened senses as we entered JoBurg, spotting signs of "Smash & Grab Hotspot" and "Car Hijacking Hotspot" at intersections in combination with the red lights being turned off so as to not make drivers linger for too long.

Johannesburg is notoriously ranked one of the most dangerous cities in Africa. Unfortunately, the lawlessness of the city in combination with rampant poverty has provided a breeding ground for crime. The moment I checked into my hostel and feeling shocked at my sudden loneliness on this continent, I was told by the receptionist to never go out of the hostel alone and to not bring anything with me that could easily be plucked away by pickpocketers. Thankfully, the hostel was a little haven in the city.

JoBurg Airport is one of the busiest on the entire continent, providing connections to many destinations, so travelers are many here. JoBurg is the largest city in South Africa and the downtown core is said to be the richest square mile on the continent. Historically established as a prosperous gold mining city, the gold mines are now legally closed down and many now occupied by gangs. JoBurg was the home of Mandela and Tambo's law firm, the first black-owned law firm in the entire country. Nelson Mandela is of course a well-known name, with his arrest for treason linked to the creation of the ANC and his subsequent 27-year imprisonment on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town. The Curiocity Hostel where I stayed was actually the home of the Pacific Printing Press which, during apartheid, published materials for the ANC and Black Sash even claiming to offer refuge to the likes of Mandela himself.

I joined a guided tour group led by a local JoBurg-ian who masterfully led us through the streets, showing us the poverty and he discussed the various issues of the city, but he also aimed to share with us the places where local investments are providing spaces for safety, art, culture and livelihoods to thrive, such as the Maboneng district. This was marred by him pointing out knocked out and hijacked buildings. It was an eye-opening experience.

I am grateful to have witnessed JoBurg for my own eyes and with the guidance and care of a local. Instead, I focused my time on having a safe space in the city to spend many hours processing and writing blog posts of our cross-African roadtrip, and reading hundreds of pages of my books.

So, is it worth visiting? I wouldn't go back, but as with any destination, visiting JoBurg is different for each person and so I encourage you to do your own research and have your own experiences before coming up with your answer.

Here are some photographs of my time in JoBurg - they do not do justice to the many complex layers of this city but they provide a glimpse of what I saw:

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Looking towards the downtown core

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A safe space to rest and refresh at the Victoria Yards

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The old law offices of Mandela & Tambo

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You can still see their firm sign in the window of Chancellor House

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A statue of Mandela outside the Central Maigstrate's Court

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Nods to the old gold mining industry, how Johannesburg once prospered

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The streets are deserted on the weekends; people only come into the city if they have to (e.g. to work Mon-Fri)

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Mostly-empty mining offices; many businesses have packed up and left town as it's no longer safe for workers

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Ghandi Square, with a statue of Ghandi, who was actually quite contentious in JoBurg: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mk-gandhi-s-south-africa-days/story-7sBXEutMT6dt95XLAFWINL.html

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Our guide purchasing the group some bananas at a street market

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A knocked down building

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One of the newest corners of JoBurg thanks to recent investment

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The artsty Maboneng district

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Street art in Maboneng

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Returning to our little hostel


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Jana Meerman

Hi! I’m Jana, a British-Dutch-Canadian with a dream of seeing every country in the world. I am a storyteller, photographer and adventurer passionate about documenting and sharing my travels.

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