Last night we partied it up in the hipster neighborhood of Braamfontein, where we found out that every bar there has a 30-50 ZAR cover charge, and that even with an entry stamp on your wrist they’ll make you wait in the back of a 2 hour line if you step out of the venue for just a few seconds to answer a phone call (And we all learned this the hard way…they wouldn’t even let me back in to close my tab and retrieve my credit card!).
But today we didn’t let that get in the way as we kicked off our morning with an breezy outdoor breakfast at Israeli/South African joint Eat Your Heart Out before heading southwest (around 15 minutes via Uber) to Johannesburg’s top-rated attraction, The Apartheid Museum.
Admission fee is 80 ZAR per person, 65 ZAR if you have a student ID.
It hits you in the gut from the very beginning — your admission ticket randomly selects you to either enter separate “white” and “non-white” entrances of the museum.
You then walk up a ramp alongside life-size figures of descendants of the original (and diverse) settlers of Johannesburg towards the main part of the museum.
The museum itself seamlessly combines a variety of compelling visual displays that trace the beginnings of Johannesburg to the rise and fall of apartheid, as well as the violent armed struggles both to maintain and repeal it.
Be prepared to spend up to 2 hours here; even if you tried to breeze through the exhibits, many of the displays will compel you to linger longer than you would have expected.
Afterwards we took a cab to the north of central Johannesburg, visiting an equally poignant Constitution Hill.
Constitution Hill is home to an old colonial Fort that was converted to a jail for political prisoners, the most famous of which was Prisoner 466/64, aka Nelson Mandela.
The fort’s confinement cells were reserved for white prisoners, which were much more liberal than the ones designated to non-whites in another part of the prison complex; white prisoners here were allowed to have a desk, sit on chairs, talk to one another, or even play chess through the mesh separating some of their cells!
In the courtyard of the prison fort was a beautiful mural that looked like a Google Map of Johannesburg, but actually composed of a mosaic of different colored stones.
Situated below the fort was the main attraction of Constitution Hill, namely Number 4, a notorious prison block that overcrowded, underfed, and savagely exploited its black prisoners, whereas white prisoners were treated much more humanely.
It is also famous for its imprisonment of Mahatma Gandhi; his experiences here largely contributed to the foundations of his future struggles for Indian independence.
Across from Number 4 is South Africa’s highest courthouse, the Constitutional Court, which oversees legal cases defending basic human rights and freedoms.
So where Number 4 was a symbol of South Africa’s inhumane, racist past, the Constitutional Court would be South Africa’s hope for a brighter future.
Fittingly, separating Number 4 and Constitutional Court are the Stairs of Africa, built with dismantled bricks from old prisons.
A little off from the hill is The Women’s Gaol, aka the former women’s prison. It now functions as a public conference space and museum for temporary exhibitions.
After about an hour and a half at Constitution Hill, we walked south along De Korte St., back towards where we partied last night at Braamfontein.
I remember being intrigued by this place after it was profiled extensively on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown, and finally being here in person did not disappoint — within a communal space filled with beautiful people and live performances stretching into its rooftop that overlooks Braamfontein, lie countless food stalls that exemplify the best offering of Johannesburg’s gastronomic diversity.
And the food:
Get here early! They close up at around 4pm.
After filling our stomachs and getting a little tipsy from their sangria by the bottle, we staggered down Nelson Mandela Bridge towards the gentrified Newtown district of central Johannesburg.
Views from the bridge:
Once in Newtown, we stretched out our legs in its precinct park.
And within the park is Joburg’s Workers Museum:
Afterwards, we watched the sunset over Mary Fitzgerald Square before calling a cab back home.
FYI, the Uber situation here can sometimes a tricky ordeal as drivers here can literally not move from where they accepted your ride request unless you call to inform them that you’re ready to be picked up.
Other drivers can even have a hard time navigating their own city (one of our drivers today had never heard of either Constitutional Hill or the Apartheid Museum…)
Tonight we say goodbye to one of our monsooners Aaron Lam as we officially conclude week 1 and begin week 2! We’ll miss you Aaron!