I have officially been in Johannesburg for 12 days. In that time, I have learned so much about this country. For starters, when Google says it will be winter in South Africa from June until the end of August, believe it! It is freezing over here (in comparison to the summer weather in Virginia right now). Average temperatures over the last week have been about a low of 45°F and a high of 60°F. With low temperatures, come shorter days. The sun rises around 7:00am and begins to set around 5:00pm.
The combination of cold weather, short days, and intense jet lag, has limited my desire to do much exploring during my first week here. Here in South Africa, we are 6 hours ahead of everyone back home in Virginia. I have experience jet lag before, but nothing like this. In fact, during my first weekend here, I slept for 15 hours straight. Fortunately, I have since recovered and I am finally beginning to make plans to thoroughly explore this awesome city.
I spend most of my days, of course, at the Khulumani Support Group office in Johannesburg. It isn’t a very large office, with only 7 rooms, and about 10 people in the office at one time, but the work that is done there is unbelievable. And the people that works there are filled with passion for what they do. Just the other day, I spent an hour of my work day speaking with the office secretary about life in South Africa since apartheid ended, and why the work that Khulumani does is so important.
Although apartheid has officially ended on paper, it seems many people of color still face the same discrimination and struggles as they did before their liberation in 1994. The unemployment rate amongst the black population is around 40+ percent. Even if you are employed, the lowest minimum wage right now is about 1,500 South African Rand (zar), which is about $120 (U.S. dollars), per month. Yesterday, I walked past a women sitting on the side of the street with two very young children asking for money. Fortunately, I had cash to spare, however, what I could give would not solve that woman’s struggles.
Don’t get me wrong; there is certainly wealth here. In fact, Johannesburg is incredibly industrialized. The problem is, most of the land and wealth in this country is still only held by those who benefited from the former apartheid regime.
Race relations here are certainly worth mentioning as well. To paint the picture, one of my colleagues was telling me about how she use to work in a chocolate factory last year. Her boss, who was a white woman, would drive home everyday to use the bathroom, rather than use the same toilet as a black person. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any blatant acts of discrimination since my arrival, but time will tell.