Johannesburg Arrival and Nelson Mandela

South Africa > Johannesburg

May 2013

There was a brief sale by Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) for Singapore-Johannesburg (via Jeddah) in March 2013, so I quickly grabbed a couple of tickets and told the shocked ma’am, we are doing South Africa in a couple of months’ time! Well, just ample time to plan for our maiden trip to this much-mentioned country — this is my second visit to Africa (earlier trip was to Ghana in 1996), but a first for her.

A quick hop by air from Kuala Lumpur, and soon we are checking in for JNB via JED, at Singapore SIN Terminal 3. By the way our flight is made longer by a brief stop in Riyadh.

I have visited SIN T3 before, but this is the first time I am actually using it — am very impressed indeed, the way only the Singaporeans could.

Our transport to Jeddah is already at the gate — flight SV839, Boeing 777-200 reg. HZ-AKO. Departure at 1700h, arrival in Jeddah at 2255h — longish journey.

Interior is pretty standard and comfortable, with a large group of Indonesians heading for Mecca for umrah (minor pilgrimage).

Sunset during flight as we head west, still a long way to go.

One interesting thing about Saudia is the provision of a prayer area at the back of the plane. They probably sacrifice 12 seats in this Boeing  777-200. The downside is toilets are always wet and littered with tissue papers, caused by people doing their ablutions!

Transiting in Jeddah is painless, if it’s 5 hours or less like us. It’s pretty basic though, a rather old-fashioned, boring airport. Luckily it is not too crowded, except for waves of pilgrims waiting to catch their flights home.  But thank Allah, they are building a new terminal, Phase 1 to be ready 2014. At the moment, passengers are bussed to planes parked a distance away from the terminal.

Our boarding passes to Johannesburg ready, and we are good to go.

Sunrise over the Red Sea as the plane enters African airspace. Flight SV447, another Boeing 777-200 reg. HZ-AKV.

Interesting flight path — from Jeddah, a straight line to the mouth of the Red Sea, then right turn into Africa.

Service aboard Saudia is generally good, and they keep feeding us — three tasty meals on the SIN-JED flight, and two more for JED-JNB. Only in-flight problem is the condition of the toilets, due to some umrah pilgrims who lack basic etiquette, sorry to say.

Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport JNB, finally, some 30hrs after leaving Kuala Lumpur. Suprisingly modern and hip.

On the shuttle van to the hotel, and two European Airbus A380s by the roadside. Heavy traffic for these routes I suppose.

Modern freeways around the airport, our hotel is at Kempton Park, just 10min away, but some 25km from downtown Johannesburg.

After a long flight it’s nice to get to the hotel as fast as possible. Another reason we choose this hotel, just next to the airport, is for convenient pick-up to Kruger National Park early tomorrow morning.

Well-appointed room, and we have a short rest, while planning what to do for the rest of the day.

Look at the hotel’s security wall and the electrified fence atop it — seems to be commonplace for homes in Johannesburg! I hope we don’t have to do this in Malaysia to deter intruders.

We are in early and still have a half-day to spend. Since this is the only time we have in Jo’burg, we decide to pay the city a visit.

I notice a long ridge with yellow soil on the leftside of the freeway as we head downtown. I am told, underneath it there’s still a lot of gold. Johannesburg sits atop a huge gold deposit, and mining is strictly controlled.

More gold-bearing yellow ridges in the distance, as we drive to the south of Jo’burg in the direction of Soweto.

This is our main destination — the highly-regarded Apartheid Museum, a memorial to the horrible days of apartheid (1948-1994), …

…  and a ‘shrine’ to Nelson Mandela, the person who virtually dismantled it all. Unfortunately no pictures allowed in his special museum.

We duly get our tickets, but much to our surprise, we are segregated at the entrance — I get the ‘non-white’ ticket, she the ‘white’ ticket! Fair enough, she’s much fairer than me anyway. 🙂

We enter and are welcomed by relics from the apartheid era, a system based on the premise that people of various races are so different from each other, that they cannot possibly live together.

The original idea of implementing apartheid in 1948 was also to assist the struggling Dutch and German settlers, who were economically and socially stuck between the wealthy British landowners and the impoverished black natives — sounds quite familiar to us in Malaysia, right? 🙂

To accommodate apartheid, the government then had to amend more than 50 legislations, thus entrenching racial discrimination in every level of society in South Africa.

In the landmark 1994 elections, Mandela’s African National Congress party won 63% of the seats, just short of 2/3 majority to enable amendments of constitution, but the Govt of National Unity was set up — with cabinet comprising ANC members and representatives from opposition parties. How I wish the same thing would happen here in Malaysia!

Back then they did take this classification business very seriously. Apartheid recognised four racial groups: Whites, Blacks, Coloureds, Asians. I’m sure they must have devised ‘tests’ on how to determine who belongs to which group!

Along the wide corridor of the museum there’s an interesting display — live-size images of relatives of personalities of the apartheid era are attached to mirrors, thus giving an illusion of them being around in person.

Of course, I couldn’t resist myself from being part of the picture too, pun intended.

My partner also joins in, gleefully.

There’s even one outside, against the backdrop of Jo’burg’s modern skyline.

With the fall of apartheid, these key words become their slogan.

This bit is especially meaningful, in the context of multiracial Malaysia as well.

Such a significant place, it deserves a leap!

We soon head north towards downtown Jo’burg. Having heard so much of this city, I just have to go see it for myself.

We take the M1 which goes straight through downtown Jo’burg.

Past some colourful old part of Jo’burg, approaching the rail yard.

They built this Mandela Bridge to cross the huge rail yard, and we enter downtown proper to the right.

In general, Jo’burg looks pretty modern, but it reminds me of American cities, esp. with its grid of streets.

It is the seat of large-scale gold and diamond trade — it’s believed underneath this city itself, there’s still a lot of gold waiting to be mined.

Jo’burg is located on a plateau, more than 1700m above sea level, has a subtropical highland climate — summers can be hot. Population is dominated by blacks (more than 70%), followed by whites (16%), coloureds (6%) and Asians (4%).

Gold was discovered in the 1880s which triggered a massive gold rush, and Jo’burg grew rapidly from there. Now it is the business hub for South Africa, and home to some of Africa’s tallest structures.

Though reputed to be a ‘dangerous’ city, an experienced traveler should know where (and when) not to go in downtown Jo’burg. I mean it can be as safe as or as dangerous as Chicago, say. Almost 40% of city population are unemployed with about 90% of them being blacks. A lot of these unemployed blacks come from outside Jo’burg and neighbouring countries, such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and this contributes to the high crime rate.

Otherwise Jo’burg looks just like any well-planned city I’ve seen elsewhere. Crime rate has significantly dropped, thanks to World Cup Football 2010, together with concerted efforts by the authorities to stamp out crimes.

It’s the largest city in South Africa with 4.5mil people in the metro area — it’s not the capital of South Africa, but the capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in the country. They say South Africa has three ‘capitals’: Pretoria (real capital, seat of government), Cape Town (tourism capital), Jo’burg (financial capital).

Apartment blocks are plentiful in downtown Jo’burg, mainly owned by whites who used to live here, but have since moved out to safer, more comfortable suburbs. Now these homes are rented out mainly to blacks, and the whites only come to downtown to work.

A quick tour of downtown Jo’burg done and we head back to our hotel near the O.R. Tambo Airport, but we need to do a detour first.

Yes, a mandatory stop at a huge modern shopping mall called Eastgate, northeast of downtown, midway to the airport.

Quite well-designed this mall, with crowds of blacks, whites, coloureds, Asians, and everything in-between, patronising the shops and the countless restaurants on a beautiful Sunday late afternoon. It truly reminds me of the shopping malls we have in Malaysia, with our own multiracial crowds.

It is such a nice spot that we would have stayed longer, if not because we have to get dinner fast. We just need to get back to the hotel as soon as possible to sleep, no thanks to jet lag. It has been a long day.

And yes, this is our take-away dinner — tasty Nando’s, which is halal in all of South Africa.

We get back to the hotel in good time, and I admire the beautiful new banknotes featuring Mr Mandela. He’s probably the only non-royalty who gets his face on banknotes while still being alive … fantastic!


We’ll have a very early start tomorrow morning — somebody will pick us up at 6.30am for the 6-hour drive to Kruger National Park, located at the northeastern corner of South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique.










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