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Johannesburg On Assignment

Johannesburg On Assignment

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City of Gold

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By Peter GodwinPhotographs by Tomasz Tomaszewski

Ten years after apartheid, South Africa's boomtown wrestles with new freedoms and new fears. Will Jo'burg overcome its crimes—past and present—to lead Africa into the future?

Read this compelling excerpt, or print the whole story.

Searching for a cappuccino bar in Soweto, Johannesburg's sprawling black township, might seem like a fool's errand, but Jerry Marobyane, my guide, insists that it's around here somewhere. We cruise slowly along the rutted roads, past hundreds of makeshift shacks interspersed with smoking garbage heaps, past rows of "elephant" houses, their dun-colored concrete roofs curving down to the ground like the thick, crinkled hide of an elephant. Of the foamy icon of the comfortable classes there is no sign, until, with a cry of triumph, Jerry spots it. But something is wrong—Soweto Cappuccino has been replaced by 21st Century Funerals. Inside, the receptionist, Mpho Dilwane, tells us that the cappuccino experiment was a failure. Because of the AIDS epidemic, she says, the death business is flourishing. Avalon, Soweto's huge cemetery nearby, now holds 210 burials a week.
As we drive away, Jerry explains how the coffee bar had sprung up as white rule of South Africa sputtered to an end ten years ago this month. The bar catered not to Soweto's residents but to the busloads of tourists that passed through on whistle-stop excursions to this township that had become symbolic of the whole struggle against apartheid. The tourists came to pay homage at Nelson Mandela's old house. They came to see the former residence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the fearless prelate who thought nothing
of striding into a baying crowd to rescue a suspected police informer from being "necklaced"—garlanded with a burning tire. They came, too, to see the place where black schoolchildren, protesting that their classes were to be taught in Afrikaans, were gunned down by police.
Under Mandela's charmed guidance, South Africa began the post-apartheid period as a country beguiled by its own miraculous stepping back from the brink of a full-blown race war. It dubbed itself the "rainbow nation" in recognition of the new spirit of tolerance and inclusion that most South Africans hoped would replace the old one of bigotry and fear. The bar was particularly high for Jo'burg (as it's usually shortened), the country's most diverse city. Freed from the constraints of political isolation, the city could live up to its new motto: "World Class African City." South Africa was to be the vehicle for the African renaissance, a sort of postcolonial, post-Cold War, postapartheid new beginning that would herald an Asian tigerlike economic leap, with Jo'burg as its launching pad.
Today, a decade after the birth of the rainbow nation, the urban expanse of Johannesburg and its satellite cities is home to more than eight million people. Together they generate 9 percent of the economic activity of the entire African continent, and they enjoy a standard of living way above the African norm. Yet they also endure one of the continent's highest rates of violent crime, albeit one that seems now to be decreasing. 

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VIDEO Armed bodyguards, bulletproof vests, and locals who couldn't believe he was foolish enough to even walk the streets. Learn why Johannesburg was Tomasz Tomaszewski's most dangerous assignment ever in this video interview with the photographer.

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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Johannesburg has a city within its own city—a city made up of 35,000 people interested in two things, fruits and vegetables.
The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, located a few miles outside the city center, is the largest market of its kind in Africa. Six days a week some 5,500 vehicles deliver produce from all over South Africa to the market, where suppliers hawk the food to retailers and individuals looking for a good deal. The emphasis of the market is on produce, but meat, fish, and some basic groceries are also sold.
The market is made up of five separate trading halls, and careful thought has been put into what fruits and vegetables go where. Take potatoes and onions, for instance: They are quarantined together in their own hall because potatoes are dusty and the strong smell of onions could contaminate the other produce.
This is not your local roadside produce stand. Forklifts cruise around the market moving piles of crates, and most customers are there to buy in bulk to resell in their own grocery stores. Many of these customers are from Johannesburg or other parts of South Africa, but some travel from as far away as Swaziland and Angola.
At 6 a.m. buyers start making deals, and the halls are filled with hustle and bustle. But in just five short hours things are winding down, and the customers have loaded up and are on their way—until the next day, when another 35,000 will arrive in search of produce.

—Julie Cederborg
Did You Know?

Related Links
City of Johannesburg
Browse the city's official website for a comprehensive look at the latest news and events, dining and shopping offerings, and in-depth description of Johannesburg's boomtown history.
South Africa Online Travel Guide
Looking to travel to Johannesburg or elsewhere in South Africa? This online travel guide offers the basics—from climate and geology to descriptions of wildlife parks and travel routes.
South African Police Service
If reading about Johannesburg's notorious crime rates peaks an interest, check out the South African Police Service website. It provides charts and statistics for the city's latest crime trends. 
Nelson Mandela Biography
Nelson Mandela once said, "The struggle is my life." Read about this former president of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner who helped end apartheid in a biography on the African National Congress website.
AIDS Education Global Information System
The AIDS and HIV rates in Johannesburg are staggering. AEGIS, which is considered the definitive Web-based reference for information on AIDS and HIV, offers comprehensive information on these topics and is updated hourly.


Beall, Jo, and others, eds. Uniting a Divided City: Governance and Social Exclusion in Johannesburg. Earthscan Publications, Ltd., 2002.

Beauregard, Robert A., and others, eds. Emerging Johannesburg: Perspectives on the Postapartheid City. Routledge, 2003.

Mabuza-Suttle, Felicia, with Thebe Ikalafeng. Felicia: Dare to Dream. Black and White Publications, 1999.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom. Back Bay Books, 1995.

Musiker, Naomi, and Reuben Musiker. Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg. The Scarecrow Press, 1999.

Ricci, Digby, ed. Reef of Time: Johannesburg in Writing. Ad. Donker, 1986. 
Tutu, Desmond. No Future Without Forgiveness. Image Books, 2000.


NGS Resources
Benning, Jim.  "In Country: South Africa." National Geographic Adventure (February 2003), 26.
Carter, Jason.  Power Lines: Two Years on South Africa's Borders, National Geographic Books, 2002.
Sheperdson, Nancy.  "When I Was a Kid: Nelson Mandela." National Geographic World (November 1999), 30.
Cobb, Charles E.  "The Twilight of Apartheid: Life in Black South Africa." National Geographic (February 1993), 66-93.
Ellis, William S.  "South Africa's Lonely Ordeal," National Geographic (June 1977), 780-819.


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