Moving to Johannesburg: Getting Cosy in Jozi


Stained Glass window in Soweto church depicting Nelson Mandela.

Johannesburg, Jo’burg, Jozi, Egoli or City of Gold has its beginnings rooted deep down in the rough and tumble of the gold mines.  With a reputation for violent crime and a notorious history of apartheid, many expats have grave misgivings about moving here.

First Impressions of Life in Johannesburg

Nevertheless, our first impressions are favourable. First of all, the climate is kind and our lifestyle is very pleasant. The city itself is low rise and remarkably green (several million trees were planted creating an impressive man-made forest) and it is incredibly child-friendly with endless outdoor space for growing legs to stretch out and run and run and run.

Once acclimatised and established, plenty of expats aren’t in a rush to leave. It’s still early days for us, but so far we are really enjoying our time here. Since our arrival we’ve had to rescue The Pickle from the clutches of a playful lion cub at the Lion Park and Sweetpea has overcome her fear of getting lost at school, yes, the campus is that big. She spent the first week going to the wrong playground! Our kids have adapted quickly to their new environment with its’ topsy-turvy seasons and elaborate security arrangements.

In terms of culture shock, it has been relatively minimal so far.  Most consumable goods and brands that we could want are pretty readily available and affordable. Even though there are 11 official languages here in the rainbow nation, English is the lingua franca, which makes so many things easier – although of course things still get lost in translation.

Johannesburg’s Traffic

We had been forewarned about the terrible and crazy traffic, but apart from rush hour it’s not really that terrible compared to London, terrible or crazy compared to Istanbul and is a breeze in comparison to the mother of all traffic nightmares, Lagos.  This is a relatively young city with shopping malls, big freeways and highways and mod cons. It’s easy to forget and sometimes hard to believe that you are in Africa.

Reverse Culture Shock

Just before we arrived here, we had a quick flit to the UK between postings and a small dose of reverse culture shock for Pickle.  I stopped in our borrowed car to fill up with petrol.  As I opened my door to hop out, Pickle piped up behind me.

Pickle:     What are you doing mummy?

Me:          Putting petrol in the car, Pickle.

Pickle:     But where’s the man Mummy? The man will do it. You need to stay in the car.

Happily he is now back in his comfort zone as, like Istanbul, Johannesburg is blessed with many petrol pump attendants keen to also top up your windscreen washer, check your tyres and oil for a small bonsela (tip).

Mandela Day

Both children have settled quickly into their new schools, although Pickle came home a bit miffed on Mandela Day.  He had been told they were celebrating Nelson Mandela’s birthday. He didn’t know which grade Nelson was in and complained…. “Mummy, we iced cakes, but I didn’t get one and there were balloons and I didn’t get one of those either. Nelson’s party was rubbish.”  The cakes were being sent to disadvantaged children in a township and the balloons were celebratory and had been released into the air.

I then tried explaining to the children who Nelson Mandela is and took them to Mandela Square to see his statue. Sweetpea was thoughtful for a moment and then asked, “so is he the man on the red and white chicken box?”  I nearly choked on my coffee and quietly and urgently explained that KFC’s ‘The Colonel’ and South Africa’s beloved Madiba must absolutely never, never be confused with one another!

August 2013

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