Johannesburg & the ThoughtWorks Pan Africa Away Day 2016

I’m back in Australia after a quick trip to South Africa to attend the ThoughtWorks Pan Africa Away Day 2016.

I left on Tuesday morning, and was early to the airport in Brisbane so I got on an earlier flight to Sydney before flying to Johannesburg. The flight from SYD-JNB was good, it was the first time I’ve flown with Qantas internationally and I was pretty impressed. I was following the sun so by the time it got dark here I’d been in daylight for about 20 hrs which was a very long day!

ThoughtWorks SA had organised a pickup from the airport and the hotel, so a driver picked me up from the airport. On the way to the hotel he told me about how different areas had different races living in them during apartheid. Some nicer looking houses have very serious security, but apparently home invasions are becoming less of a problem. There were still some questionable characters in parts though so I’m sure home invasions still happen, it’s interesting how much the crime rate varies depending on who you talk to.

I spent Wednesday in the ThoughtWorks office. It’s a nice office and much bigger than Brisbane despite having a similar number of people working out of it. I met some of the locals and another traveller here for the away day from Brazil. All up there were 32 international visitors, some there doing talks, some attending like I was and a lot from ThouthWorks leadership/management. The guests were from Brazil, China, Ecuador, Germany, India, Kenya, Singapore, Turkey, UK and the US.

On Thursday we did a tour of Soweto, an area in Johannesburg. First we walked through some of Motsoaledi, an ‘informal settlement’ (a.k.a. shantytown/favela). There are around 8,000 people living there - you should be able to pick it out on Google Maps. One thing I found pretty crazy in all these areas is how much Coca Cola sponsors things - most people there don’t have running water, but there are Coke signs everywhere!

Coca Cola sign in Motsoaledi

From there we went to Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world to have two Nobel Peace Prize winners living there - Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Mandela’s house is a typical government built house from that era, a very basic four bedroom place. It’s now a (small) museum:

Panoramic shot of Mandela's old house, showing that it's now a museum

After reading some of what he and his family put up with, it’s pretty amazing he was as forgiving as he was when was released from jail!

We also went to the Hector Pieterson Museum which is all about the anti-Afrikaans Soweto Uprising - in 1976 some politician decided that all schools (where students were already struggling with English) would now run lessons in Afrikaans. A whole load of students refused to go to school, and lead a march and the police reacted pretty brutally - 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of the first to be shot dead.

On Friday we left to Khaya iBhubesi, the venue for the Away Day. Despite the name translating to ‘home of the lion’ there wasn’t a lot of wildlife around, though there were some lions there in an enclosure.

Friday and Saturday were mostly talks from ThoughtWorks Global and Africa leadership. There were events on Friday and Saturday night too, so I didn’t get a whole load of sleep (though I think that made jetlag easier to handle when I got back; I slept the whole flight back and then the whole night on Monday too!).

On Sunday we drove back to Johannesburg and then I went with two people from the Ecuador office to the Apartheid Museum. It’s crazy how arbitrary the laws were in that time!

Sign showing that aspects like which sports someone played where used to detmine their 'race'
Sign explaining how in 1985 at least 1000 people 'changed race'

After the museum I was off to the airport.

It was a really good trip even if it was a bit quick. It would have been good if I had more notice and could plan to visit other countries in Africa, but I guess that will have to wait until next time!