I don’t think I have ever had as bad of a feeling about a city other than Johannesburg. I met a young South African woman that grew up in the city while we were partying at Carnival in Brazil and she said to me “you can’t grow up in Jo’burg without getting robbed or mugged”. It’s one of the most dangerous cities in the world and after I have experienced it for the brief 24 hours I can say that it’s deeply misunderstood.
I was born in Venezuela and have been living in South America for roughly a year before I started living in Nairobi, Kenya. Venezuela is a very bad place to be right now, I consider myself a local there and even I got kidnapped and robbed. You get used to looking behind your back every 5 seconds to see if there is anyone following you after living in South America so long.
Living in Africa is even worse since I stick out more than a skinny person in the United States
I can blend in (somewhat) by mimicking accents and wearing certain clothes in South America, I can’t blend in Africa unless I get a serious tan. I unfortunately can’t do that yet since I still have more laser hair removal treatments.
Yeah that’s right, even Mr. Wiggles.
I’m comfortable enough with my sexuality to say I’m metro sexual, I’m cool with that. Shaving your eyebrows and arms? Not so much. These Puerto Rican heart throbs seriously need to explain that to me.
The point is I’m used to being in a dangerous place where I stick out. I’m used to seeing bars on windows and women holding their purse closer to their body than that kid screaming with a toy at Wal-Mart.
I’m used to seeing part of my family in Venezuela have a compound with serious security including Lassie the dog.
Nothing prepared me for what I saw in Johannesburg
When I was driving from the train station to my friend’s apartment you didn’t see anything other than 15 foot walls with electrified fencing. In Sicily, they have two lions at the entrance of every house to signify the mafia has its hands in those pockets.
In Johannesburg, they have electrified fencing with house alarms that are included with an armed response; not a police officer that comes and checks on the house, not a rent a cop that pretends he can protect you, an armed response.
These people are dead serious about security
After getting a very eerie feeling on the taxi ride I was completely blown away when I entered the condo complex. There are two guards at the reception desk (standard) but once I walked out to the fourth floor my jaw dropped. Inside of the condo complex there are metal gates before you reach the door of the home. You need two set of keys, the first to open the metal gate and the second to open the door to your home. These are old fashioned metal gates that you find on patio doors in some bad neighborhoods.
When you are in a condominium complex all of the security is supposed to be a the place of entry; the front door, elevators, back of the building entrance. Every single entrance to a home was equipped with the Santa Clause proof metal framed gate. Who wants Santa Clause coming into your house and eating your Chips A’hoy anyway?
Can you just imagine how dangerous this city must have been?
I have been traveling around the world for most of my life and I have never seen anything like this. The city at one point in its history was a very bad place to be and there are still some neighborhoods that you don’t want to visit. Now it’s just a habit of feeling safe more than it is actual danger.
Recognize that most of the older generation in the city lived through a very tough time and now they are just used to feeling safe.
While I would need more than one day for an opportunity to get robbed I can compare the city to the country of Colombia. There was so much violence in Colombia at one time that people ask me how dangerous Colombia is rather than is it safe. There is an image that both the city of Johannesburg and the country Colombia share, but only an image.
When I was walking around the city I didn’t feel in any danger at all. The first thing I look for when I arrive in a new city is my surroundings on the drive from the airport. Johannesburg was a train from the airport and then a drive, only the drive is what surprised me. It’s very similar to allowing your boyfriend/husband cook a cake only to have it look like World War 3 on a plate and once you try the cake it happens to be delicious.
We both know the cake always turns out awful but it’s the figure of speech that I am going for
I look forward to returning to Johannesburg to explore more parts of the city. It would be very interesting to delve deeper into the culture of a city that has such a huge connotation of violence.
My perspective has certainly changed, until next time Johannesburg. Until next time.