Travel Tips for Johannesburg, South Africa
Your cell phone may work in South Africa. You should check with your provider to make sure 1) that your phone is compatible with the South African system, which uses a GSM network (the same system as the rest of Africa and Europe); and 2) if you want to buy local airtime (which is easy to do, and much cheaper than paying your provider’s international roaming charges), make sure that your get an “unlock code” from your cell provider in the U.S., so you can install and use a SIM card other than that provided by your own provider. Phone calls in South Africa are quite expensive, even by U.S. standards, so many South Africans SMS each other rather than calling. (Landlines are cheaper, but less common.)
You will not need particularly formal clothing, though you should bring one nice outfit for social occasions. Dress at the university is very informal – like the United States. South African society ranges from very informal to quite formal. For men it is advisable to have one sport coat and tie; for women a nice evening outfit. Students in Cross Cultural Communication are required to bring one outfit that is professional.
June and July are winter in South Africa (see weather below). While you will have heat in your guesthouse rooms, South Africa does not do a particularly good job of heating their buildings. Winter is relatively brief there, and it is comfortable and warm during the rest of the year, so they have not invested much in insulation and heat. You should thus bring some medium weight clothes – a sweater or two, pile shirts, etc. During the day you might be able to wear a short sleeve shirt, but in the evening you will want something warmer. We emphasize the need for warm clothing: on safari, the students will need a warm coat, a hat, and gloves.
Computers and computer labs are available in the residence halls and the law school. For your convenience, however, you are encouraged to bring your laptop.
The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand. The current exchange rate is approximately 7 SA Rand to the U.S. dollar.
ATMs are very common, and it is easy for you to withdraw money from a South African ATM from your U.S. bank account if your bank is part of any of the major international networks (such as Plus, Cirrus, etc.). Note however that both the South African bank and your own bank will probably charge you a fee for using their machines. (Some U.S. banks charge a flat fee of U.S. $5 for every use of a foreign ATM – that is, even checking your balances may result in such a fee.) You should check with your bank concerning what fees they may charge you.
Credit cards are also easy to use. South Africa is, however, a place where credit card fraud is not uncommon. You should thus use ordinary caution in protecting your credit card information.
Because of the risk of credit card and bank fraud, you should contact your bank and credit card companies to inform them that you will be in South Africa, and the dates you will be there (as well as any other place you plan to visit). Many U.S. banks will block charges overseas, particularly in countries like South Africa, assuming that your card has been stolen or otherwise compromised, and that the charge being attempted is unauthorized.
A good source for educating yourself about South Africa is the weekly Mail & Guardian, which is published each Friday. It has a good guide to cultural events, and a good summary of the week’s news globally, nationally, and locally. They also have a very good Web site: www.mg.co.za.
South Africa uses 220/230 volts, so you will need a transformer for any electronic equipment you plan to bring. Your computer almost certainly has a built in transformer, but you should confirm that.
You will need an adapter in order to plug into a South African outlet. Most travel stores have a variety of universal adapters. Make sure that you get one that is compatible with South Africa, as some “universal” adapters apparently do not work in South Africa. Depending on how many things you may want to plug in, you should bring more than one adapter. You can also buy adapters in South Africa, though it is more convenient to bring them with you rather than to wait until you arrive to purchase them.
Please be aware that in the recent past, unscheduled electrical outages have occurred in the city. We recommend that you bring a flashlight as a precaution.
Medical Facilities. South Africa has some of the best medical facilities in the world. (The first heart transplant in the world was performed in South Africa). In fact one of the best hospitals is just down the street from the Wits law school. For those of you planning to travel in other parts of Africa, South Africa also has excellent travel clinics where you can get both required and optional vaccinations and medication.
Malaria. If you are staying in Johannesburg, you do not need to worry about malaria. In fact most of South Africa is free from malaria. There are some exceptions, however, including Kruger National Park. If you do plan to travel in other parts of Africa or South Africa you should consult with your physician to make sure that you have all of the required and recommended medication.
HIV/AIDS. South Africa has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. If you are planning to engage in sexual activity in South Africa you should make sure to practice safe sex, as in fact you should no matter where you are.
Food and Water. South Africa is a mixture of a developed and developing society. Thus parts of South Africa are as poor as you will see in any country. At the same time some of the richest people in the world live in and visit South Africa. Johannesburg is a modern, cosmopolitan city. You can eat and drink as you do in the United States. The tap water is safe to drink, though more and more people are drinking bottled water as we do in the U.S. Generally you do not need to worry about vegetables, fruits, salads, etc. In fact South Africa has a wide variety of delicious fresh fruits, much of which is exported to Europe, the Middle East, and the U.S. As with all such things, you need to use common sense. Street food, while often times perfectly safe, has a higher risk of being less hygienic – again, as is the case in the U.S. You should thus use the same level of common sense as you do in the United States.
For general health issues in South Africa and the region, including what if any vaccinations you may need, go to the travel section of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. For Southern Africa, visit http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/regionSouthernAfrica.aspx.
Students will secure their own housing during the program. Two bed and breakfast options in two locations are available. Choose the best one that fits your budget and rooming preference.
The Wedgwood is located in the neighborhood of Melville where restaurants and nightlife abound. Check the rate and payment plan here.
Stay City is a budget-friendly bed and breakfast centrally located to many important sites in Johannesburg. It is also the closest B&B to the Wits campus. See the room rates here. Both B&Bs offer airport transfers and transportation to and from the University of the Witwatersrad. Airport transfers and shuttles to/from Wits are included in the program fee.
If you arrive before the housing availability dates, or if you plan to stay in the Melville area for a few more days after the program, here are a few recommended bed and breakfast places:
- Akuwaiseni Guest House
- JeanJean Guest House
- Melville Manor Guest House
- Melville Turret Guest House
- Saffron Guest House
- Tama Rumah Guest House
- The Space Guest House
Internet access is limited (and not guaranteed) in South Africa, though like cell phones, it is more expensive than in the U.S. Internet charges are done by time and amount downloaded – unlike the U.S. you cannot pay a flat fee for unlimited use over a set period of time. You will have wireless access (at no charge) within the Wits law school. There are also numerous internet cafes, and a growing number of places that have wireless access – though again for a fee. Wireless hotspots are not nearly as common as in the U.S. However South Africa has an extensive wireless network based upon 3G. Again this is expensive, but it provides you with wireless access in most, if not all, of Johannesburg and most urban areas.
There are eleven official languages in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho (or Sepedi), Southern Sotho (or Sesotho), Swazi (or Siswati), Tsonga, Setswana, Venda (or Tshivenda), Xhosa, and Zulu.
English is widely spoken, and is growing as the dominant language in South Africa. It is, however, only ranked fifth as the mother tongue of South Africans. According to the 2001 South African census, Zulu is first at about 24%; Xhosa second at about 18%; and Afrikaans third at 13%. Most people however do speak English. Signs will usually be in English and at least a few other languages depending on where you are in the country. Some signage is still dominated by Afrikaans, a legacy of the apartheid era.
While English is the dominant language, there are some differences between American English and South African English. Some of these differences are the same as those between American English and British English, but not all. Below is a brief summary of common phrases in South African English and their American counterpart:
|Just now||sometime soon, shortly|
|Now now||sooner than just now!|
|Boot||trunk of a car|
|Mate||pal or buddy|
|Howzit||hello (a greeting)|
|Bakkie||pick up truck|
|Cheers||goodbye; also thank you; and as in U.S. as a toast|
Unlike in the United States, many South Africans speak multiple languages. The languages you will most likely come across are Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu. Some basic phrases in each of those languages follow:
|Ngiyabonga||I thank you|
|Ngicela...||Can I please have...|
|Ngiphuma e-(England)||I'm from (England)|
|Hamba kahle||go well|
|Unjani? Ninjani? (Plural)||How are you?|
|Hamba Kahle||Goodbye (go well)|
|Siyabonga||We thank you|
|Ngifuna....||I'm looking for...|
|Ngiya phila. Wena?||I am fine. And you?|
|Sala Kahle||Goodbye (stay well)|
|Kunjani?||How are you?|
|Hamba kahle||Goodbye (go well)|
|Ndiphilile. Nawe?||I am fine. And you?|
|Sala kakuhle||Goodbye (stay well)|
Afrikaans words and phrases:
|Baie Dankie||Thank you|
|Nee Dankie||No thanks|
Ek praat nie Afrikaans nie! - I don't speak Afrikaans!
Ek verstaan jou nie - I do not understand you
Hoe gaan dit? - How are you?
Dit gaan goed, dankie - en jy? - I am good thanks, and you?
Dit gaan nie so baie goed nie! - It's not going very well!
Aangename kennis - Pleased to meet you
Hoe laat is dit? - What time is it?
Ek is opsoek na die....... - I am looking for the ...........
Historically Afrikaans was widely spoken, in part because of the apartheid policy of requiring that all instruction be conducted in Afrikaans. It was that policy that led to demonstrations by South African school children throughout South Africa in 1976, which resulted in the killing of an estimated 500 school children in Soweto. June 16, 1976 was the first day of the demonstrations and resulting government repression, and June 16 is now Youth Day, an official holiday in South Africa.
For more information on South African languages, see www.southafrica.info/ess_info/sa_glance/demographics/language.htm.
South Africa is known as the “rainbow nation.” It is an incredibly diverse society, much more diverse than the anachronistic racial classifications used during the apartheid era. Yet some in South Africa continue to self-identify using these categories. What follows is a very brief and oversimplified summary of race, ethnicity and culture in South Africa. It is designed to give you a broad overview of the contours of race, ethnicity and culture in South Africa. You should thus not over generalize from this description. As in the United States, while one can make general assumptions about people based upon their race, ethnicity, or culture, those assumptions can easily be wrong, misplaced, or even offensive to an individual from that background.
The three most common such classifications are black (also sometimes referred to as “African”); white (also sometimes referred to as “European”); and colored (a broad category of people that sometimes includes the descendants of Malay slaves brought to the Western Cape starting in the 17th century; “mixed race” people; and those of Indian or South Asian descent). As with all social phenomena, the culture and politics of race in South Africa is very complex, and we cannot do justice to the topic here. We thus recommend that you read some of the suggested materials found below in order to better appreciate the subtleties of this very diverse society. As with your interactions with your peers here in the U.S., you should be respectful of how people identify themselves, and sensitive to the racial and cultural dynamics of the people around you.
Of South Africa’s approximately 45 million people, approximately 31 million are black, five million white, three million colored, and one million Indian. Among the black population are four major ethnic groups: Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsongo, and Venda. The largest subgroups are the Xhosa and the Zulu, both of whom fall under the Nguni group. The Zulus are the largest population in the province of Kwa Zulu Natal, but are also a large part of the population in Gauteng, the province of Johannesburg. Because Johannesburg was the center of the South African mining industry (you will see large piles of sand, which indicate gold mines, some of which are still active), many workers were “imported” during the apartheid era to Johannesburg and its surrounding area. Thus many Zulus, mostly men, lived and worked in Johannesburg while their families remained in Kwa Zulu Natal.
Among the white population, Afrikaaners make up sixty percent, and those of British descent make up most of the rest of the white population, though one finds families who have been in South Africa for generations from other European countries. The Afrikaaners are descendants of the Dutch who arrived in Cape Town in the 17th century. They strongly identify with South Africa, and have played an important part in South African history, both positive and negative. While the National Party, the party of apartheid, was primarily a party of Afrikaaners, people of Afrikaan descent played an important role in the anti-apartheid movement, and have made important contributions to South African culture and the creation of a new multi-racial democracy. The British, like the Dutch, also colonized South Africa. Unlike the Afrikaaner population, those of British descent tend to identify more strongly with Europe and specifically with their country of origin, the United Kingdom. Historically the British and Afrikaaners fought for control over South Africa, including the Anglo-Boer War from 1899 to 1902. That war saw the creation of the first concentration camps, one set for black South Africans and the other for the Afrikaans population (also historically referred to as “Boers.”) The British thus established the first recorded concentration camps in the twentieth century, which resulted in the death of thousands of men, women, and children, and is still remembered by some Afrikaaners as an historical injustice that has yet to be adequately addressed.
The colored population consists of those of “mixed race.” Many coloreds have a strong sense of racial and cultural identification, and most speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue. Of course there are exceptions to this. During apartheid coloreds were treated better than blacks, but not as well as whites. Thus the colored population is a more solidly working class and middle class population, though there are very poor and very wealthy coloreds. The Western Cape has the largest population of coloreds in South Africa, though with the end of apartheid and an increasingly mobile population, South Africa is fast becoming a more integrated society.
South Africa, including Johannesburg, has a fairly high crime rate. While most think that Johannesburg has the worst crime rate in South Africa, a recent study indicated that the highest incident of violent crime occurred in more rural rather than urban, areas. The large disparities in wealth mean there is a lot of property crime. In addition violent crime, including rape, is quite high. Most people visit South Africa without incident. You will be spending much of your time on the Wits campus. While like all campuses there are safety issues, the risk of crime on campus is much lower than outside campus. Even so, you should not walk around at night by yourself. Exercising basic common sense and staying alert can go a long way towards minimizing the risk of becoming the victim of a crime. Do not advertise that you are a tourist, or someone with something worth stealing. For example do not walk around with a camera dangling around your neck. Do not wear flashy jewelry, sunglasses, I-pods, etc. Do not walk around outside campus by yourself. Johannesburg is generally not a pedestrian friendly city, though there are some places we can direct you where you can walk on the streets safely. If you are accosted, do not resist. It is not worth risking your life, and the lives of those with you, over the money in your wallet or other valuables you may lose. Do not leave valuables in open view in a car; “smash and grab” crimes – someone smashes a car window to grab a purse, computer, sunglasses, etc. – are quite common.
If you do decide to rent a car, you should be aware that car jacking is a frequent crime in South Africa. Also, if you are thinking of renting a car, remember that in South Africa, they drive on the left -hand side of the road. If you plan to rent a car please let us know and we will provide you with additional safety information.
Students have either arrived early or left later after the program to see the beautiful sights in South Africa.
Capetown offers many sightseeing options. Read a recent New York Times article that provides recommendations.
Tracy Woods, '09, wrote her experience and recommendations from her trip to Kruger National Park and the neighboring areas:
“I just got back from Kruger Park and would recommend staying a few days inside the park. I would also recommend staying in the camps that are farther north and away from the main gates because there tend to be less people and less RV type of campers the farther north you go. I really liked Satara camp and Olifants. You can look at the availability of accommodations on the SANParks website and even book a campsite or bungalow if they seem to be getting booked. The campsites are the cheapest, but they have clean bathrooms with showers and cooking areas.
We did a morning walking tour that was awesome out of Olifants. And an ok night drive out of Crocodile Bridge. I would not stay there.
But, if you like walking and being out of a car, you should consider the three-day Wildnerness Trail. It is still cool driving your own car there too because you can just stop and sit and the animals, especially the giraffes come pretty close to the car.
I have done the organized safari things before and definitely liked doing my own thing in Kruger. If possible, I would not book ahead either if you can camp because then you can go where you want to go without getting stuck because they don't do cancellations or refunds there.
Have fun. I also recommend going to Swaziland, the Drakensberg area of South Africa, and Lesotho if you can manage it. It is inexpensive to rent a car there and TOTALLY safe to drive around.”
Tipping is standard in South Africa. The general amount in restaurants is in the 10-15% range. If you rent a car, tipping of petrol (gas) attendants (there are no self-service gas stations in South Africa) is customary. Usually 2-3 Rand is sufficient, regardless of the amount of petrol you purchase.
We will arrange transport at the Johannesburg airport when you arrive, and will take you either to a guest house/hotel (if you are arriving early) or to the dorms. You thus need to make sure that we have your travel itinerary.
As part of your program fee, we will arrange transportation for all of the field trips.
You may rent a car in South Africa. Car rentals are expensive there, however. Also note that they drive on the left side of the road. If you are interested in renting a car, please let us know. We can both help you find a reasonable rental, and give you some additional safety tips about driving in South Africa.
Most South Africans travel within Johannesburg using an informal taxi system. They are relatively inexpensive, and generally safe. (Note that this is not the case in all South African cities; in Cape Town, for example, the informal taxis are not very safe or reliable.) There will be more information about this and other local transportation options at the onsite orientation after you arrive.
A number of us will have cars, and depending on our schedules will be happy to drive you to various places – do not hesitate to ask.
Here is a map of the Wits campus to give you an idea of the buildings and facilities surrounding the law school and the residence halls.
As a foreigner, you are entitled to a refund on any VAT (value added tax) you pay for any good that you purchase within 90 days of your departure date. The refund does not apply to services. In order to claim the refund, you must have a VAT receipt (also called a Tax Invoice). Stores do not necessarily give a VAT receipt, so if you are making a purchase for which you want to claim the VAT refund, you should make sure to ask for a VAT receipt or Tax Invoice which must include the following information:
- The words "Tax Invoice"
- A Tax Invoice number
- The seller's VAT Registration number
- Date of Issue of the Tax Invoice
- The seller's name and address
- The buyer's name and address
- A full description of the goods purchased
- The cost of the goods in Rands
- The amount of VAT charged or a statement that VAT is included in the total cost.
You will also have to have the goods available for inspection upon leaving the country.
To enter South Africa you will need a passport valid for at least six months after your stay ends. You also must have at least two facing blank pages in your passport. If you do not, you can be turned back at the airport. The immigration authorities will almost certainly ask you the purpose of your visit. We will provide you with a letter indicating you are enrolled in the SU-Mandela Institute program. You will also be asked for a local address, for which you can use:
Wits Law School
Private Bag X3
WITS 2050 Johannesburg
The immigration authorities may also ask you to show that you have a return ticket and that you have some means of support (i.e., credit cards, travelers checks, etc.) For U.S. citizens staying in South Africa for ninety days or less, a visa has not been required. In the past U.S. students and faculty have not required a visa, although the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria recently informed us that an academic was turned away at the airport for not having a visa. You should thus check with the South African embassy or consulate to confirm that you do not require a visa. The phone number for the South African embassy in Washington DC is 202.966.1650; embassy Web site: www.saembassy.org; and South African Department of Home Affairs Web site: http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/visa_detail.asp.
Depending on your country of origin, you may require a visa to South Africa. You should check the Web site of the Department of Home Affairs of South Africa, where information on what countries are exempt from the visa requirements, and the application procedure for visas, can be found at http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/visa_detail.asp.
June and July are the middle of the winter for South Africa. For Johannesburg, this means the days are usually crisp and clear. During the day the temperatures range from low 40s to low 70s. Evenings can get below freezing. You should thus bring a sweater or light jacket.
Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of South African history and culture, as well as good travel tips, which can be found at: http://wikitravel.org/en/South_Africa.
Some useful Web sites:
Constitutional Court: www.constitutionalcourt.org.za/site/home.htm
Wits Law School: www.web.wits.ac.za
U.S. Embassy in South Africa: http://pretoria.usembassy.gov/
The SU library has a subscription to the South African Journal of Human Rights. This is a good source for recent writing on South African constitutional and human rights jurisprudence. (Volume 17, part 2, from 2001, for example, has some interesting articles on socio-economic jurisprudence under the South African constitution.)
Suggested books and online newspaper are as follows:
- Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela
- Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton (also a movie)
- Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, Mark Mathabe
- Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, Antjie Kroj
Mail and Guardian, http://www.mg.co.za/ (good weekly publication that has in-depth articles on current events and issues; good section on Special Reports).