Foreign visitor champions Joburg

19 January 2004

“When you head off for your first meal or pub experience, carry as much money as you are prepared to lose (in your pocket), and more in your socks for the taxi home – maybe they won’t find it.”

It was advice like this – from Lonely Planet’s 2002 guide to South Africa – that made Olav Andre Manum, a Norwegian journalist flying to Joburg, frantically summons the air-hostess for another glass of wine.

Accompanying his partner, Arne Grønningsæter, for a two-year work stint to Johannesburg, Manum was already feeling apprehensive before he and Grønningsæter set off.

After reading Lonely Planet’s section “Surviving Johannesburg’s Dangers and Annoyances” on the plane, he felt like taking the next one back to Norway.

“Everyone told me I shouldn’t go, that Joburg was a dangerous, ugly place.” But when Grønningsæter had an offer to head up a social research unit here, and Manum had the chance to go somewhere new, they decided to “brave it”.

Exploring the inner city
Manum laughs when he remembers how tentatively he began to explore his surroundings. “It took us weeks to venture into the inner city. It was supposed to be so dangerous, but there were things we had to see at the Market Theatre.”

Since then, Manum hasn’t looked back. One delightful discovery after another has whet his appetite and, accompanied by new friends, he has already explored much of the length and breadth of the city, venturing also into Alexandra, Soweto and KwaThema.

“At first, just going into Nicki’s Oasis, near the Market Theatre, felt very adventurous. I was so paranoid I was looking over my shoulder most of the time.”

Soon Manum began to relax and explore, discovering other Newtown landmarks like the Bus Factory, Kippies and other jazz clubs and shebeens. Since he doesn’t drive, he spends much of his time walking to various destinations.

“I found the people very friendly, very easy to get into conversation with. I started talking to them, hearing their stories. They were interested in me, I was interested in them. I started discovering the tremendous history and diversity and all the fascinating things this city has to offer. I just took to the place.”

In fact, such a champion of the city has he become, and so zealous is he to dispel the myths surrounding it, that Manum is writing his own travel book on Johannesburg to tell cosseted Norwegians what they’re missing out on.

Manum’s descriptions of his explorations to friends back home have led to queries from them and more exploration on his part. Now he’s on a mission to excavate as much as he can.

Dispelling myths about Joburg
“There is so much still to find out about. Once you start exploring you realise that Joburg emerges as a vibrant, culturally rich and diverse city with a most fascinating history.

“You have black, white, Indian, Muslim, Jewish . this is something I’m really not used to. It struck me that if I could dispel the myths about Joburg it would be a good thing.”

In an article about Johannesburg published recently in the Mail & Guardian, Manum wrote that “the city should sue Lonely Planet for slander. I’ll take the witness stand in favour of Johannesburg any time.” Lonely Planet’s updated edition on South Africa is due out in November this year.

Manum doesn’t deny that crime is an issue. He and his friends were robbed at gunpoint in the inner city recently, when he was taking them on a tour of some of Joburg’s Art Deco buildings.

It happened so fast he didn’t have time to be afraid. “Crime is a fact of life,” he says philosophically. He cites the work done by people like his friend Bulldog Ratokulu, a police reservist and crime fighter in Alexandra, as one example of ordinary resident’s attempts to help combat crime.

“More social justice and more distribution of wealth would also go a long way towards solving the crime problem. The city is trying to do this, but of course it’s a slow process.”

He has enjoyed visiting other parts of the country, but Johannesburg still tops his list.

Although Manum and his partner are due back in Norway in May, they may set up a base here, since they intend to return. “It may sound corny,” laughs Manum, “but Joburg has touched my heart.”

Source: City of Johannesburg website