The Domain Island Tour visits island nations with TLDs such as Tuvalu (.tv), Iceland (.is), Barbados (.bb), etc. to see what kind of places they are and how the people live. This time we have a special edition on Johannesburg. Though as you know, Johannesburg is not an island nation.
As the largest urban center in the Republic of South Africa, and one of the worst crime-ridden cities, is Johannesburg safe to visit? We went to find out. The domain assigned to South Africa is “.co.za”.
* This fact-finding mission was undertaken in September, 2019.
◆Where is Johannesburg?
Johannesburg is the capital of the province of Gauteng. Because it’s the largest city in South Africa, it is sometimes mistaken for the capital. South Africa has three designated capital cities: Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative). Since the embassies of different countries are located in Pretoria, Pretoria is considered the capital for the whole country. The currency used in Johannesburg is the Rand (ZAR).
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◆A Crisis-prone City, but Travel Advisory Level 1
On our trip to Ascension Island and Saint Helena for the Domain Island Tour, we, the domain explorers, stopped over in Johannesburg.
It was past 9:00pm when we arrived in Johannesburg after visiting the two islands.
We checked in at the Protea Hotel Transit O.R. Tambo Airport (on the premises of the airport). We walked around the airport for about 15 mins.
We had to return to Japan the next day, and check-in was at noon. Naturally, there was no time for sightseeing so we just planned to stay at the hotel. Besides that, according to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Overseas Safety HP website, “There are still high levels of serious crime, such as murder, robbery and assault. In addition, please use caution as even in airports and hotels there are many incidents of stalking and robbery, car-jackings, and robberies involving fake police cars.” That was another reason why we just wanted to wait in the comfortable hotel.
However, looking closely at the travel advisory website, the rating is the lowest among the four levels. It’s at “Level 1: Exercise caution”. The explanation gave the impression that Johannesburg is the most dangerous, crime ridden city in the world, but the actually advisory level was only 1, so we decided to do a little cautious sightseeing. The next morning, after leaving the transit hotel, we decided to check-in at the airport first. It was a long line-up.
Check-in was done after about 30 mins, so we chartered an airport taxi to quickly see the sightseeing places we had decided on the night before.
If you go to the information center at the airport, the staff there will arrange a taxi for you. Certified taxi drivers wear yellow jackets. On man asked us: “Where are you from?” When I said “Japan”, he answered: “Ah, the Rugby World Cup is coming soon, I’m looking forward to it!” As expected, South Africa is a rugby powerhouse.
◆The Apartheid Museum, Photographs Prohibited
First, we went to the Apartheid Museum in the Soweto area. Former President Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the first black man to become the Bishop of Johannesburg and Archbishop of Cape Town, both lived in this area.
Just before arriving at the museum, we discovered a palace-like building. It’s a mosque called Masjid Siratul Jannah. About 300 worshippers gather daily, and over 2,000 on Fridays.
About 30 mins from the airport, we arrive at the Apartheid Museum.
Admission is 100 rand / adult. The tickets are given for “Whites” and “Non-Whites”.
Near the front of the building, just past the entrance, there are two entry ways, one for “BLANKES / WHITES” and one for “NIE-BLANKES / NON-WHITES”. You had to enter according to the ticket you were given. Even people visiting together with friends might be separated if the color of their skin was different, in this small way we were able to experience apartheid.
Cages were lined up inside. IDs (identification cards) from the apartheid era were displayed in the cages.
A sign for pub, WHITES ONLY.
When you leave this building, there are large mirrors of people in the walkway. The people in these mirrors represent the migrants that came to Johannesburg after the discovery of gold in 1886. People who dreamed of making a fortune from the so-called gold rush.
From the front view, no one has a face.
Beyond this area, all photography is prohibited. The main building is home to a number of exhibits that highlight the discrimination between whites and blacks, revealing the tragic reality that black people did not have the same rights as white people until 1994. There was no Japanese audio guide in the museum, but it was easy to see the misery and tension that existed.
One of the most famous places related to apartheid is Sun City. A resort venue about 190 km away from the apartheid museum, the “Sun City Super Bowl” had a seating capacity of about 6,230, and big music stars, like Queen and Elton John, who felt that music had nothing to do with politics, performed there regularly.
Although the UN called for a boycott of Sun City, due to substantial financial incentives, many musicians continued to play there. In 1985, Steven Van Zandtrelease stared a project called “Artists United Against Apartheid” and released a single called “Sun City”. Singing lyrics like “I ain’t gonna play sun city”, a total of 52 prominent artists such as Peter Gabriel, George Clinton, Miles Davis, African Banberta, Hall & Oates, RUN DMC, Michael Monroe, Bruce Springsteen, Bono (U2), Bob Dylan and Pat Benatar collaborated on the song, making Sun City a hot topic.
◆The Highest Point in Africa
Next, we went to the highest point in Africa. It’s the observatory on the top floor of the Carlton Centre, called the “Top of Africa”. The apartheid museum was in the suburbs, so there were almost no people around there, but downtown there were many people.
It’s about 7 km from the museum, and we arrived in 10 minutes. The Carlton Center, at 223m-high, is the tallest skyscraper on the African continent. The shopping mall, located from B1 to the 3rd floor was crowded with shoppers. Initially, when the building opened, it was one of the classiest places in Johannesburg, home of the Ritz-Carlton. But from the 1990s onward it started to decline as the surrounding area succumbed to urban decay. The hotel withdrew in the late 1990s.
We took the escalator to floor B1 and purchased tickets to the observatory. Admission is 30 rand / adult. Then, we took the exclusive elevator to the “Top of Africa” on the 50th floor.
The highest point in Africa! A 360° panoramic view that allows you to see all the way across Africa. The view was great, but the restaurants and shops were closed and the observatory was looking a bit desolate. Besides the view, there is not much else. In some spots, the windows were very dirty. I think it’s probably just dust.
When we visited in September 2019, mob attacks against foreigners were frequent in Johannesburg. After we descended from the highest point in Africa, we immediately got into our taxi and headed to the next destination.
◆Super Dangerous Ponte City Apartments
If you only have time for one more place, be sure to check out Ponte City Apartments. We arrived in the Hillbrow area, near the apartments.
For most people in Johannesburg it is considered a dangerous place to go. It doesn’t look like a place where I want to get out of the car. The recent news of mob attacks weighs heavily on my mind.
Ponte City Apartment, also known as Ponte Tower, has come into view. A residential high-rise building with a height of 173m, and 54 floors.
Although it’s in a prime location overlooking Johannesburg, almost all the residents left after gangs took over at the end of apartheid. For a time, gangsters, drug traffickers, and prostitutes rushed in, and it got a reputation as “a place where you could get anything from sexual services to drugs in a matter of minutes” if you could “survive the first 15 seconds”. However, now security has improved somewhat and people have moved back in. But is it really now a safe apartment building? We pass through the guarded gate into the underground parking lot, and get out of the car.
On the 1st floor. There are no people on Monday.
I was not sure where to go to get to the residential area, so I asked a male janitor who was cleaning, and he said “follow me” and took me to a community center on the premises called Dlala Nje. At Dlala Nje, they hold workshops for children living in Ponte City Apartments and organize tours of the tower. There will be Judo class at 16:00 today.
As soon as I asked about a tour, they told me that advanced reservations are needed to go to the 54th floor… They kindly tried to arrange things for us, although we arrived so suddenly without a reservation, and even talked with other staff on the telephone, but it was not possible to go to the residential area. However, we could go to a place called the “core”, a hollow area in the center of the building. The fee to go is 100 rand / person.
The stairs are old and rickety.
In darkness, we climb the stairs until we arrive in the core. Wow, it’s a great view. In some places the wall looks ready to collapse.
There used to be garbage piled up here as high as the 5th floor, and it was removed completely once, but it seems that no work has been done since.
Well, they said the survival rate here was only 15 seconds, but we hung around for about 45 minutes and left alive! There were only a few people inside, and it was fairly quiet, so overall I didn’t think it was that bad.
Chinatown on the way back to the airport.
◆Finding the Johannesburg Domain
The ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) assigned to South Africa is “.za”. The abbreviation for South Africa is “sa”, so the domain should be “.sa”, right? But the “.sa” domain is already being used by Saudi Arabia, so they decided to use “.za” based on the name of South Africa in the Dutch language, that is, “Zuid-Afrika”. The domain “.co.za” has no acquisition restrictions.I also saw “.co.zw” assigned to Zimbabwe at Tambo Airport.
However, there is also a domain for Johannesburg “.joburg”. The domain “.joburg” was created in 2014 and is a GeoTLD (geographic top level domain), in Japan the equivalent would be “.tokyo” and “.osaka”. In fact, in South Africa, there is a “.capetown” and a “.durban” for those cites, in addition to Johannesburg.
In Tambo Airport, I saw a lot of South African heroes, like former President Mandela. I couldn’t find “.joburg” in the city during this visit, but if I have a chance to go to Johannesburg again, I’d like to look for it.