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South Africa Info

Zelda Robinson

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Here are the responses I received in my quest for info on visiting Johannesburg, South Africa:

-- Susan Friedmann

I lived in Jo'burg for three years back in the 70s - married a South African!

A few tips that may come in useful:

  • June is winter time - 50-60's F during the day and around 40's at night.
  • Go and see a mine dance (on Sunday afternoons) and if you feel brave also consider visiting a gold mine. They will take you about 1 mile under ground - be prepared. Definitely make time to go to the Kruger National Park on safari. There are probably tours.
  • South Africa is a bilingual country - Everyone in Jo'burg speaks English.
  • Currency is "rand." Don't bring any back with you as it isn't changeable over here.
  • From what I've heard from friends, it's not safe to be out at night. Also be careful which areas you frequent - some are better than others. Do ask at the hotel.
  • People are very friendly and accommodating. Sure they will love you.

-- Maye Musk

I lived in Joburg and Pretoria for 40 years. I love South Africa and it's people very much. You will find everyone very friendly and they will love your accent. I'm sure you've been warned about looking rich as there isn't much law and order anymore. Whoever has invited you will probably look after you. You will find South Africans are very hospitable and will invite you to their homes for meals and "braais" (barbecues). Depending on the month you're going, weather is great, summers are hot and winters are chilly. Clothing is conservative and chic, not revealing or sexy. There is no humidity so you don't get the uncomfortable and stifling heat of New York or Boston.

-- Linda Francis

We were in S. Africa last fall for vacation, spent time in Cape Town area and in the North. Both times we rented an RV to travel in.

We spent NO time in J'burg on purpose. Everything we read and nearly everyone we talked to discouraged us from doing so because of the high crime rate. Met J/burg residents who spoke of murdered parents, ongoing mBLOCKQUOTEtiple robberies in their neighborhoods, the need for bars on windows, and inabiity to stop at red lights at night due to car jacking. We picked up our RV in J'burg, but because of a late flight, coBLOCKQUOTEd not get out of town until after dark, so the rental people had us stay on site, inside a barbed wired, electric fenced compound, where we woBLOCKQUOTEd be safe. At the end of our trip we needed to visit a publisher in Pretoria, so we stayed there 2 nights. Wanted to walk to the museum 3 blocks away from Holiday Inn, a "Security Ambassador" insisted on walking us to the musuem, because to look like you don't know where you are going is a problem. Also went without any purse or camera. That night we wanted to go to a really good restaurant that was only 3 blocks away and the hotel insisted that we take a cab.

We did not experience this in Cape Town or any of the small towns we visited both N. and S. We love Kruger Park. Great animal viewing. It is about 3 hours east of J'burg. We also like the Transvaal area. We also spent 2 weeks in Zimbabwe and had a wonderfBLOCKQUOTE time.

Hope you have a great trip. We did. But please do be carefBLOCKQUOTE in J'burg.

-- Mike Foster

I taught in South Africa recently, here is a copy of the "report" I made for my company....

South Africa can be a very rough and dangerous. You will be fine, however, because you will:

  • Be confident and brave; being scared doesn't solve anything.
  • Have a healthy sense of awareness and concern about your surroundings at all times.
  • Conceal all jewelry, cameras, and nice clothes.
  • Leave your hotel room key with the front desk when you go out.
  • Carry very little (if any) money.
  • Avoid speaking to all strangers.
  • Constantly be thinking, "if they run at me, what direction will I go?"
  • Stay in big groups of people.
  • Be intelligent at all times, stay alert.
  • Bring good books and don't ever leave your hotel if you want to be "safe" all the time, although that sounds terribly boring. There are so many "safe" places to go to, although just not usually right around the hotels.The hotel staff knows where to send you, just ask them.

Most of the people here are absolutely wonderful! The crimes are frequent, but you have to understand how many people are here too the odds are on your side! There are many hungry people that look at you (beating you up and stealing from you) as their only chance to keep their children from dying. People will do a lot of things to save their kids, can you blame them?

It costs SkillPath over $80 per Federal Express packed back and forth overseas, so do whatever you can to minimize shipment needs (they can pay us more if we don't waste their money).

Driving on the left side of the road, sitting from the right hand seat isn't nearly as tough as I imagined it would be. After a couple of days, I felt very at home driving on the left side of the road, and about the safety of these streets. The key is to get directions from the place you are leaving from, call and get directions from the place you are driving to, and get a map and trace out the two sets of directions. If there are any discrepancies at all, then go back to the two parties until you get them worked out. Before you start driving. Never stop at a place that isn't well lit. Do not be afraid to "run" a traffic light if someone is approaching your car, it is a commonly accepted practice here at night for all the white folks. It is better to pay a ticket (I bet you won't get one) than cause your own funeral. (Just make sure you don't pull out in front of someone!) Yes, they do carry weapons here, so don't even slow down in rough neighborhoods, best not to go into those neighborhoods to begin with. If they kill you and steal your car, they can sell it to be used as a taxi, and feed their family for a while. It isnt anything personal against you, they just love their family. It is illegal to make a "left turn on red" (corresponding to our right on red). Now that Ive learned to stay out of "bad" neighborhoods, I feel only slightly more in danger than I do anywhere in big city downtown USA.

People drive fast here, really fast. You will learn how much youve taken for granted about the United States highway system and signs just wait! It is still lots of fun here, kind of an adventure. A flashing "right turn" green arrow means you have a "protected right turn", and a flashing "right turn" red arrow means you can "right turn" if you yield first (think of it as a flashing red light at a stop sign in the USA).

Many times the street signs (that say the name of the street) will be in Afrikaans instead of English, but you will be able to make them out if you use a little imagination.

Taxis let the hotel call one for you, instead of just hailing one yourself. Do not get into a "mini-van" taxi, they are at "war" for "territory" with other mini-van taxis and shoot at each other. There is also a good chance of your being abducted, especially in Johannesburg theyll take you straight to Saweto township and youll never be heard from again. I never witnessed this, but several people over here warned me about it. I found all the drivers very pleasant, friendly, and fun to visit with. They aren't afraid to answer any and all of your questions, so ask them. They know the best restaurants, the safe places, places to exercise, etc. The toughest part for me and the taxis was to learn not to get into their drivers seat! (am used to the steering wheel being on the left).

If you take a taxi for only a short distance (like to go down the street and it is too dangerous to walk), please keep in mind that that driver has been waiting in line anywhere from two to eight hours for your fare. If it is a fifty cent fare, I would always give the driver at least R25, most of the time closer to R50. When you consider that it takes five Rand to equal a dollar, that is a pretty fair fare, and you aren't cheating his family out of a meal that day.

Food and Water feel free to eat and drink of everything that is prepared in the restaurants. The food here is so good! Tap water is just fine too, anywhere in South Africa. I never had a single bad meal wish I could say that about the States!

Shots get them. All of them. See your doctor before you leave. Malaria no need to worry about this unless you plan to go visit Victoria Falls or Kruger National Park on vacation. All the "training" cities are well outside the malarial zones. Also be advised that the best anti-malarial drug, larium, can cause wide emotional swings so consult your doctor about this before starting it.

Airports they are so nice here! There are free carts to put your bags on when you arrive at curb side and when you land in baggage claim (you dont actually land in baggage claim, well, you know what I mean) Expect larger isles and seats than in the US, you will get fed a "snack" in economy class on almost every flight (even "short" ones) that rivals (many times exceeds) the first class meal served in the US airlines.

Yes, they do lose luggage. Mines been lost twice so far, once for about 5 hours, and again later for 3 days. It all eventually arrived however, unharmed and complete.

The Black People. They are so clean, friendly, sweet, and helpful. Learn their handshake, it is fun! Treat them as respected equals, that is what they are. They don't use slang, they speak great English.

Historical sites and tourist traps (I mean, excursions). Do them. Enjoy being a part of the area.

Money The Rand is about 5 Rand to the US Dollar. There are plenty of ATM machines to get cash from whenever you need it, that way you don't have to carry much. Everybody here takes MasterCard and Visa for all of your purchases.

Communicating with the states email is probably your best bet. Otherwise, call a long distance phone company and sign up for a card. IDT and VoiceNet are good choices.

Time difference 7 hours later than Central Time in USA.

Flight across the ocean bring one of those blow-up pillows, and sit back, enjoy the ride! Plan on sleeping, the seats are comfortable (for airline seats anyway). (Ok, so they aren't comfortable at all, but think positive, that is all you have going for you in this department!) Expect to eat two good meals. (good for airline food).

Manners ask everyone how they want you to address them, never assume first name is OK. Listen, don't talk. Ask questions, don't tell them about the US, ask about Africa. Follow your normal manners, and realize you are a guest in their country. You have a good opportunity to set a good example of what US Citizens are really like. You can imagine how the news media portrays us, and you know what all is going on in the news right now with our nation's leader.

Speaking everyone here knows English. Do not try to "British-ize" your accent, you won't be able to do it properly and they actually love hearing your "American" accent. Speak your best, clearest, most proper English and they will love it dearly.

There are several "different" words here. For instance, "Napkins" are diapers here, so ask for a serviette. Traffic Lights are called robots here. If someone says they will do something "just now" or "now now," that means "in a little while" or "later." "Lekker" means "good" in Afrikaans, and is used a lot like "cool!" is in the States.

Several other phrases are different too. For instance, if you offer someone something and they say, "Ill get some myself when Im ready" to you, there is no disrespect meant. This is a common term here. The glove box of a car is called the cubbyhole here. The term "downtown" has very negative connotations here, meaning the slummy areas, as opposed to being used as in the states. Say "City Center" if you mean the center of the city.

Power and Phone plugs Gerome knows just how to fix you up. Everything here is 240Volts 50Hz, and you can toast your equipment in a hurry if it isn't ready for the juice. Remember things like your razor and cordless toothbrush too.

Hotel staff, messages, room setups. I was very disappointed at first, and it is because I expected things to be like in the USA. Here are the expectations you should have, so you won't be disappointed:

  • When you arrive at the hotel, they may not know SkillPath from anything.
  • Be sure to ask for a non-smoking room (some hotels only have smoking rooms, but their cleaning staff seems to be better, as a rule, than the ones in the states)
  • Probably nobody on the night shift at the hotel will have a clue where your boxes are
  • Night staff, even security, frequently won't have keys to any of the day staffs offices to check for the boxes.

Do expect that SkillPath has done a WONDERFUL job of locating the finest facilities available, and they are quite nice. My hotels here beat most of he hotels in the states as far as quality of accommodations goes. The staff, I always expect the best from everyone, Ive found it effects their performance. But just don't be surprised when they differ from United States staffs levels of being honest, reliable, and intelligent, as we are "used to" in the United States. About 50% of the time you will see good behavior, 20% of the time it is worse than rotten, and 30% of the time it is better than anything youve seen in the States!. I've asked other guests and managers, and apparently this country is in the infancy of the concept of "customer service."

Reverse discrimination is strong here, and many times incompetent people are put into jobs because of their race. On the good side, jobs are really scarce, so usually the "best people" end up working. What you will quickly do is identify one or two people (staff members) who are reliable, and use them for all your needs. Tip them lavishly if you want to, it pays off well in the long run. Learn everyones name and use it. That is even better than giving them tips in money. Still, do not expect to receive messages people leave for you, and don't use couriers to deliver any kind of message for you. They will agree to pass on a message, but it may not happen (if you think Im being overly pessimistic, just you wait and see) Never leave anything unattended in your seminar room unless you don't care if it walks off without you.

The manager of a very nice hotel told me that of his staff, eleven people out of every dozen are honest. He viewed this as a huge improvement over the past, and seemed very proud of this fact, that will give you some idea of where things are If they say they will give you a wake up call, don't count on it. If you decide to program an automated wake-up call (77#0600 at most hotels), be sure to test the system the night before. Set a wake-up call at 2305 when you are going to bed at 2300, just to be sure it works. I was awakened one night at 2:00am by my 6:00am wakeup call. The computer in the main office had the wrong time set on it, by 4 hours! If you give them your laundry, don't expect to get your own clothes back. It is always just an "honest" (or is that "silly?") mistake, and Ive always managed to track my clothes down, usually arriving at the front desk at the same time as the poor person who got my clothes Good way to meet people!

The students HUNGRY for knowledge! They will line up to ask questions, and they will all use up your lunch break if you let them (I let them, enjoy it!). Some will try to convince you that the South African custom is for seminars to always include a pre-paid lunch, and apparently it really is a custom in some areas. They frequently get pretty hacked off over that. Really upset. Even the hotel staff will attack you on this them not knowing how many people to prepare lunch for is a real inconvenience for them, and they think "convincing you" will make a difference in the SkillPath policy. Be prepared; set their expectations early. The SkillPath "no-lunch policy" really does make perfect sense, and benefits the students (keeps their rates down) and the hotels (keeps students coming to seminars and therefore keeps the hotels getting bookings.) Listen politely, let the complainer feel understood, and then explain how this is better for them in the long run. Youll see the results in their smiles and pleasure most of the time

Here is some more information for you that I never needed here, and hope you will never need, but you won't have time to "think about it" if you do need it, so get a feel for it now: Know the difference between "concealment" and "cover." Concealment hides you but doesn't stop bullets. Wheels of cars, and the engine blocks, are about the only "cover" an automobile can provide. Dont make yourself a target by standing up in the open, if shots ring out then hit the ground or run while ducking follow your instincts. This is just FYI, I've not seen any shots fired so far here, but have witnessed (and reported) crimes in progress.

The "Dial a student" PMs a wonderful happy bunch. Keep in mind that this is frequently the first job they've ever had (I'm guessing, based on their behavior very eager but not necessarily responsible) and I don't believe in hammering anyone for their mistakes when they are first learning. Praise good behavior, ignore bad behavior. Jobs are incredibly hard to come by in this country, they are trying so hard to please you that they get too nervous and mess up. If you are really gentle, they will perform like you wouldnt believe! Be sure to clarify that they are to be in the room during the lunch break, or they might wander off to lunch with your students (two of mine did). Also, you have to go through every step of the registration with them a few times (the instructions in the packet aren't enough for some of the students). It is also important for them to realize how important the "customers" are (explain what customer service is, customer service is a new concept over here to many people). In other words, you can't be this blunt with them, so plan a lot of time to get them lined out. In their favor, three of the seminars the PMs from Dial a-student were the very best PMs Ive ever had at home or abroad. Gosh, one group was so good that they even commandeered a telephone from the hotel to be brought to the registration table to call SkillPath to register people for future seminars, they helped set up, take down, they were so nice to all the students, they anticipated my every need. At a different seminar, the PM memorized all the students names and greeted them during every break by name. Gives me goose bumps to think how well they did! I wish I could have them travel with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life!

No matter what happens, period, do not panic. Remain calm at all times and just simply ask the others for help. One day, a particularly challenging day when some of the electrical equipment exploded and the show came to a dead standstill, I asked for help and six or seven audience members became angels and knights in shining armor. Smile, enjoy it, no matter how bad it gets. Remind yourself, you are having fun!

Cape Town take a trip down to the Water Front if you get a chance. There is a huge mall there to walk around in, good food, and a nice aquarium to tour. Go see Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. If you are daring, you can hike up to the top of Table Mountain from there and hike all the way to the Cable Car to ride down the other side (get a good map, hiking boots, take plenty of water, be prepared for any weather, and be careful).

Port Elizabeth A nice place. If you get stir crazy, you can take a taxi to "Green Acres Mall" and walk around. At the mall, there is a place called "The Bridge" that shows movies.

Durban very dangerous city, be very careful and don't go out. didn't find much to do here that was safe, witnessed a mugging and auto robbery at the "safe area" where the amusement park is on the beach. Some friends have told me that if you go about 20 minutes north of Durban, there is a nice community to visit.

Johannesburg be very careful here, most dangerous city in South Africa. The Park Hyatt is connected to a linked set of five malls through a long walk-way, and it makes for a nice walk through all the malls if you get stir crazy. There is a place called "Gold Reef City" (www.goldreefcity.co.za) that is an amusement park a lot like Six Flags. Besides amusement rides, there is also a "gold mine tour" and a "gold pour." You get to see a lot of dancers too. Museum Africana has a great collection of Bushman Rock Art and historical information. Note: Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Sandton are all very close to each other.

Pretoria Try to check out the Voortrekkers monument if you get a chance, and learn the history. The Union Building where Nelson Mandela offices are very interesting. Only go to these places in the light of day.

Sandton the "Village Walk" is a nice indoor shopping center to explore. "Sandton City" is the largest indoor Mall in South Africa.

Common Phrases:

  • "NGI YA BONGA" (Nnn-Gee yah bow-n-guh) - Thanks
  • "DUMELA" (Doo-mel-luh) Hello
  • "Hamba Kahle" (Hum-ba Gosh-le) Go well
  • "Bafana Bafana" (buh-fawn-uh buh-fawn-uh) National soccer team

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