9   +   8   =  

Time is flying! I arrived in Johannesburg 11 days ago. Since Tuesday, I’m in Cape Town and I’ll leave again on Wednesday to spend a few more days in Johannesburg before flying back home to Berlin. So I’ve got exactly one week left in South Africa. I know already now, that I wish I would have more time…

However, when was I sitting in the plane to Johannesburg, I had to think of the first time I arrived in South Africa, back in 2009. I traveled with friends and we were about to study for 5 months in Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape. We had a stop-over in Johannesburg and we booked a room in a nearby guesthouse in advance. The taxi driver charged us way too much. The problem was, we weren’t sure about the exchange rate and were simply too naive. We didn’t expect him to exploit us. If I remember correctly, it turned out that we paid him around 500 ZAR, 2-3 times more than we should have paid. I also remember how annoyingly long it took to register a SIM card back then. I was surprised, if not even impressed, that this time it only took about 3-5 minutes max. Things have changed.

What also changed is public transport. It’s better. More secure. More widely used by tourists and locals alike. There is for instance the Gautrain, build to relieve the traffic congestion in the Jo’burg – Pretoria traffic corridor, that connects the O.R. Tambo International Airport with Sandton. There are also buses in Cape Town, like the MyCiTi and the Golden Arrow bus that were recommended to me by the backpacker staff. I even took a minibus taxi, the country’s most popular modes of transport, from Obz to Town yesterday and it didn’t feel strange to me. Probably because I was used to take them in Kenya, but also because nobody seemed surprised within the bus to see a white face. I was delighted that I only had to pay R6 – nothing compared to traditional taxis which I usually would have taken. As I said, things have changed.

The Nort-South Commuter of the Gautrain goes all the way from Park Station to Pretoria and Hatfield. The first part of the system opened to the public on in 2010, just in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the rest was completed in 2012. A valid Gold Card is required to board the Gautrain or the Gautrain bus, which someone borrowed me for the trip. I’ve took the North-South Commute for my first meeting with a social enterprise based in Illovo and it felt like a little adventure to be honest.

Gautrain map

Gautrain map

First, I took the Gautrain Bus from Illovo to Rosebank, which only rides 40 minutes during the day. Then, I took the Gautrain from Rosebank to Park Station, which took me another 20 minutes of patiently waiting. The transfer time however was only 4 minutes. Upon arrival, I took a taxi back to Kensington and paid around R100-120.

The taxi driver started to talk about the recent violent attacks. He tells me that people are afraid of Xenophobia, but that in his view, it’s simply looting. “People are lazy to work, so they loot local shops” he explains. In his view, the problem is not only directed to (black) foreigners, it also includes South Africans. Like me, he can’t understand how hate or envy can go so far that people kill other human beings. It’s bad. People talk about it everywhere. People are  afraid. According to the CNN about 8,500 people fled to refugee centers or police stations after the happenings in Durban. Some even left the country. They say about 400 Zimbabweans returned home, despite the economic crisis, unemployment as high as 80% and political unrest in their home country.

After I’ve heard about the problem, I started to google articles and news about the topic. It is said that recent attacks happened shortly after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, traditional leader of the biggest ethnic group in KwaZulu-Natal, reportedly said they (the foreigners) needed to “pack their bags and leave”. But, similar things happened already back in 2008…Generally, I, and some others I spoke to, have the feeling that South Africa is developing in the wrong direction. Corruption is one of the biggest problems; the unemployment rate, especially amongst youth, is another one.

“However, our default position whenever we are under pressure is to resort to violence (…) And as long as violence is our means of engagement, something extra-ordinary needs to happen to heal our nation” so a recent article on the Nigerian Observer. It’s sad. Local shops have been burned, people got stabbed and burned to death. And why all this? Apparently because they believe foreigners take their jobs and women, and they commit crime.

Before we leave Park Station, the driver takes his taxi sign off the car top and puts it inside the car; it’s broken and he doesn’t have enough money to fix it he said. Because I heard people taking about the app Uber a lot here, an app that allows users to submit a trip request and routed to crowd-sourced taxi drivers, I asked my taxi driver if he uses the app. He didn’t really understand what I was talking about and asked me if I mean a Tom Tom or Google Maps. Then he points at his phone and tells me he doesn’t have a smart phone. He seems nice and I’m happy he doesn’t overcharge me for the way Braamfontein to Kensington. I take his number just in case and wish him a good day. When I leave the car, I start to wonder if I seem to know the regular price or if he really was someone who wouldn’t try to exploit “tourists” like my first encounter with a taxi driver in South Africa.

There are two articles I would like to recommend at this point: 1. “My thought on phobias and what’s talking place in South Africa” by Nigerian Lovelyn Chidinma Nwadeyi, who was raised in South Africa. 2. “Futurphobia: South Africa has a bigger problem than xenophobia” by Marius Oosthuizen, a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.