Johannesburg gets its groove back

Johannesburg has more nicknames than you can shake a vuvuzela at. There’s the  convenient (Jo’burg), the casual (Jozi) and the cool (J-town); there’s the Anglo  (Joeys), the Zulu (eGoli, meaning “place of gold”) and the Afrikaans (Burg). Yet  for many visitors, they all spell the same thing: danger.

South Africa’s biggest city isn’t exactly what one would describe as a  tourist drawcard. With the exception of former president Nelson Mandela’s old  street in Soweto, the only area many visitors explore is the airport as they  wait for a connecting flight to Cape Town or Kruger National Park.

That’s a shame because Johannesburg is arguably Africa’s most dynamic city. A  boom town that emerged in the 1880s from the richest gold rush the world had  seen, Johannesburg is still a magnet for those seeking fame and fortune. Whether  it be bankers, filmmakers or musicians, Johannesburg has room for them all.

As one proud local puts it: “Tourists tend to think of Jo’burg as a city of  nightmares but for millions of Africans it’s a city of dreams.” This isn’t to  say Johannesburg doesn’t have problems. Apartheid has left economic, racial and  emotional scars that will take generations to heal; everyone here knows someone  who has become a statistic of violent crime; and the country’s politicians are  only just starting to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

But some perspective is needed: this is the new South Africa, not the new  Somalia. Millions of dollars have been spent in the past decade improving  security and policing, upgrading closed-circuit television cameras and creating  social programs aimed at keeping children out of crime.

Slowly but surely it’s working: the 2010 FIFA World Cup went off without a  hitch, murder and carjacking statistics are stable, and residents are  re-engaging with parts of their city long thought too dangerous.

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