I arrived at Johannesburg International Airport roughly between 21:15 and 22 :10 (9 p.m. and 10 p.m. respectively); the large gap in time is due to my lack of sleep and forgetting to double check it. Arriving at the airport, I was pleased to find that the staff were welcoming and friendly and not above having a joke with you. British and American customs take note.
I meet my contacts D and L. Before they came to meet and collect me at the airport, D’s shed was set alight by someone. The car they used to transport me had a broken window; crime is so rampant that they had to hire an airport car park chap to watch the car. If they had not done this it would have been stolen.
*Note: Because of the nature of my trip, I will refer to my contacts by initials only. Reprisals against any who have helped me to uncover information are a very real threat.
I was taken to where I would be staying for the next four days via the scenic route. L was the driver and took us along the back streets to show what the area looked like and past a local “government” hospital. I was told that if you go there to be treated, you’ll probably get worse or die. Everyone has to go private for their treatment and not use the government hospitals
We drove through a section of town where some drug dealers and prostitutes live. All the houses have bars over the window’s and doors and are behind gates and fences with sharp spikes on the top of the fences or razor (concertina) wire strung across the top.
While we drove through the neighbourhood, we reached a couple of blocks where there were prostitutes hanging around on the sidewalks. Some were in pairs, but most stood alone. One young girl was standing by herself on the corner of a sidewalk and she looked about twelve. All of the young woman, and at least one obvious young man, were black. I was told that as it was almost eleven o’clock at night, it was too late for the while prostitutes to be out. Apparently the white ones get picked first.
The house where I am staying is right next door to a drug dealer and prostitute “den.” The drug dealer is Nigerian and the Nigerians are not well liked in the Johannesburg area. They are the new “crime lords” of the area. In a short time they’ve taken over as leaders in the drugs trade. C and L have no problems with the neighbour. L is a huge intimidating sized chap and the drug dealer is actually afraid of him.
Like most of the houses in this area, the one I will be staying at is a bungalow style house (single level) and it is surrounded by a high fence with sharp implements on the top to discourage thieves. All the houses have this type of wall topped with razor wire, electrical fencing or sharp metal stakes, et al. They have also put bars over every window and door.
The more “expensive” homes have electric all round and D’s house is a combination of electric and wire topped fence as well as the bars over the windows and doors.
The only houses that do not have the high fences and bars are the ones belonging to the drug lords.
Just before you drive onto the block to get to the where I stayed during my short trip, there is a fairly big house that has been vandalised and burnt. It is full of squatters and nothing can or will be done about it.
On the drive from the airport to the area that I will be staying in, D and L tell me the rules for driving in Johannesburg. These are especially important if you are a female driving or you have females in the car with you.
The rules for driving in Johannesburg:
Lock all your car doors.
Keep all your windows rolled up.
Do not slow down or stop if a car (or two, or more) are stopped by the side of the road and people are standing by them.
If you are a woman, you never drive down the road with your purse or handbag in plain sight most will put them on the floorboards out of sight to stop smash and grab theft.
If you look ahead and see rocks stuck in the road, do not approach them, as it is a trap. If you stop or attempt to drive around the rocks you’ll become the victim of a smash and grab or car theft…or worse.
Remember to check.
We finally arrive to our destination. The bungalow style house I am staying in is lovely. It has huge rooms and high ceilings. The bathroom is actually bigger than my kitchen back home in England, and I have a good sized kitchen. My bedroom is also quite large and ready for me to occupy.
C and L are lovely people who immediately make me feel like a long lost relative. Like everyone, it seems, they have dogs. One is the size of a small shetland pony, or at least in my tired state he seemed that big, and all the dogs take to me instantly. The couple were afraid that the dogs might overwhelm me. But they weren’t a problem.
It is winter in South Africa. Their winters make me think of Southern California winters; warm, sunny days and chilly nights. I am glad I packed a short, light jacket along with my short-sleeved shirts and trousers. The daytime temperatures get up to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but drop down quite low once the sun goes down; around an average of 41 degrees. As typical in winter, the days are shorter and the nights longer.
I have a cup of coffee with my hosts and soon amble off to bed. I am too excited and tired to sleep so I start making notes on my Macbook about the first leg of my journey. After an hour and a half, I finally drop off to sleep.
My first day in Johannesburg has been electric, edifying, and enjoyably adrenaline filled. My first impressions are of a people who are friendly, welcoming and adaptable. I will meet my first “interview” the next day and I’m anxious that all goes well. As I was a “last minute” substitution for our World Editor (his flight cost was extortionate) I am concerned that I get all the information I came for.
I’ve been told to take lots of pictures so that our paper’s critics realise that I am really there. As I lay in bed still feeling ill from my Hepatitis A injection I’d had the day before, I sunk slowly into a deep dreamless sleep that ended as the rest of the house woke up at seven in the morning. Looking at my iPad, when I opened my eyes, I saw that I’d had just over four hours of sleep.
My first “full” day in Johannesburg as an investigative journalist had just begun.
(To be continued)
- South Africa: My Personal Journey Schiphol and Beyond (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- South Africa My Personal Journey (Continued) (mikesfilmtalk.com)