This week’s blog comes to you live from beautiful Johannesburg, or more accurately beautiful Sandton. Sandton is a wealthy northern suburb where a lot of multi national companies choose to base their South African operations. There are also many top class hotels here and it’s quite likely that your travel agent will recommend that you stay here if you are spending a couple of nights in Johannesburg.
I flew in last night on the direct Qantas flight from Sydney. It’s more than fourteen hours flying time and the flight seems endless. I often wonder whether it’s better to get the pain over with in one hit by flying direct or to break it up with a stopover in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. I’m still not sure.
Anyway yesterday evening Johannesburg put on one of her typical hazy golden sunsets. It’s like looking through a glass of Fanta. We drove from the airport past dusty townships crammed with cheek by jowl shanty huts, each with a collection of large rocks on their tin roofs, securing them against the wind. Nearby though were whole suburbs of project housing. These small, cheaply built homes are provided to the poor rent free and there is assistance with power and water. These are the homes that were promised by the ruling ANC years ago, shortly after they took power but are only now being delivered.
This morning broke cool, windy and overcast, so with nothing better to do I strolled a couple of blocks down to Sandton City Shopping Mall. This took courage because as readers of one of my previous blogs will know – I have a distinct aversion to shops. However, it was early and for the first half hour of my wanderings through this monumental temple of consumerism the shops were closed and it was almost pleasant.
What a contrast to the townships though. Instead of dusty markets decorated by wind-blown plastic bags there was every conceivable designer label store known to man. I saw an ostrich skin handbag with a price tag of six thousand dollars! What’s the point of buying a handbag that costs so much money that you’ve none left to put in it? There were shops stacked with watches too – great chunky Rolex and Breitling time-pieces. I tell you what, you wouldn’t want to fall in the river wearing one of those. It would drag you under in no time. Whatever happened to simple, slim-line elegance?
As time went by the mall filled with a throng of elegantly dressed shoppers – black and white, but mostly black. The shops opened their doors, putting me in danger of accidentally buying something. So I left and walked back to my hotel, leaving behind this symbol of South Africa’s restored confidence. Let’s hope this continues. Crime is decreasing, the middle class is growing and I detect a buzz of optimism about the place. Now if they can just produce a half decent soccer team in time for the next world cup…………