Johannesburg,
3rd to 6th October 2007

I had a few informative chats while ion Johannesburg following the blunt warning I got about security by The Star newspaper's James Mitchell. My host at Klip Kop, Hantjie, told me that she had had two separate smash and grabs while driving her car in Pretoria. The thieves walk by with a modified spark plug held between their fingers - the sharp end acting as a point to break the glass. To steal they break the glass with one punch and in the same action take whatever is lying on the passenger seat - in her case a purse and a jacket. She said it is so fast that they are gone before you can even respond.

The young woman I met at Watercrest yesterday told me that there are Africans with HIV/AIDS who walk around with syringes filled with their blood injecting any white person they come in contact with. All the whites feel is a sharp prick - and they are infected. She said that many young whites have turned to drugs now and a recent survey of students at the University of Potchefstroom (80% white) revealed that 60% had HIV/AIDS.

It is like there are two distinct worlds here.

The first, the unreal "white world" of yesterday where the privileged wealthy class can escape to their fortress homes behind locked gates, razor wire and electrical barricades. The weak point comes when they arrive home - they have to open the gates to let their car in and that's when armed gangs of three or four get in. Having a sealed bedroom, a safe place with bars across the door, does not help when the gangs catch you outside your home in your car - your high protective walls now hide the violence to follow. This is the new reality - an unsafe land where the white community lives in fear and does not travel to a growing number of destinations. The safe spots like Mandela and Sandton Square, and Rosebank where numerous car guards stand watch in the parking bays and around the shopping malls, are the final secure shopping sanctuaries here in Gauteng. Here two worlds collide. You can see the stunned looks on the faces of impoverished Africans who walk through bemused by the wealth and oppulence that they know nothing of. The second world is the impoverished streets in places like the Johannesburg CBD and Hillbrow, the shanty towns and the parks. Streets that I used to walk in the 1980s are now dangerous no-go zones with gangs and armed drug lords ruling and to display something of value while walking is next to suicidal. How, I wonder, is this country going to host the 2010 World Soccer Cup in this worsening environment?

It seems that everyone personally knows someone who has gone through the trauma of a violent home invasion with wives and children being raped and beaten and the men being shot if they respond or left with the scars and fears of an uncertain future. In the new world only the unlocked shanty town dwelling with nothing of value, just survival as a top priority, is secure from invasion. This reflects the deep divide between the past and the growing despair that is the future here. In many ways Africa is returning to the violent tribal days that ruled before white man came.

Date

Summary

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3rd The longest day - a great lunch with friends; visting Exclusive books at Mandela Square to sign books; the lovely but remote Klipkop Guest House;

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4th A visit to Johannesburg city - where traffic chaos and crime rule and a rural "garden of eden" in the new South Africa.

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5th A walk in the bush; the first book launch; meeting Mandela's two IC at the Nelson Mandela Foundation*; and dinner with my daughter.

*Mr Mandela was one of the first people to read "Children of the Mist"

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6th A visit to the University of Witwatersrand's famous "Origins Centre" (which stocks "Children of the Mist") and dinner with my children.

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Return to Scott Balson's 2007 book tour