Johannesburg is broken, but it can be fixed.
by Scott Weatherhead
This line, taken from a film shown to us in our first in-country orientation session, seemed to immediately encompass many of our expectations, both of ourselves and of our Emzingo experience. The next day, we would have the opportunity to meet and eat with the man who spoke that line in the film, Robbie Brozin, the founder of the worldwide chain, Nando’s Chicken.
Robbie shared with us some of his famous chicken as well as insights of the challenges in building a successful restaurant chain and as his current projects fighting malaria in Mozambique. He left us with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to make our short time here count. We had a responsibility to leave South Africa with a greater sense of self-awareness and having contributed to leaving this incredible country better than we found it.
Without a solid understanding of the past, we knew we wouldn’t be able to have a real impact in our projects. If we can’t understand why Johannesburg is broken, how can we contribute to fixing it? With this in mind, we headed to the Apartheid Museum, an emotional retelling of South Africa’s path away from and return back to humanity. The rebuilding of equality, compassion and respect is a long process, that continues today in Johannesburg.
Within our first 48 hours in the Place of Gold, as Johannesburg is often called, we had quickly assessed that there were those who had gold, and those who only dreamt of it. Within minutes you could go from crumbling urban slums to a line of shiny new Mercedes in an exclusive shopping mall parking lot. Economic disparity aside, Johannesburg was quickly seen as a place where people wanted more and were eager to work for it. The entrepreneur sector is growing, enabling an exit from structural employment and extreme poverty.
We had also quickly learned that South Africa is a country of beauty and love. With the beloved Madiba’s current health, we saw a Nation united behind their former President. We visited his hospital and were impressed by the loving messages left for him.
In South Africa, beauty can be found in the people as well as in the nature. On our first Sunday we mountain biked a 20km route through a wildlife reserve, taking time to observe zebras, giraffe and ostrich in their natural habitat.
It may be winter, but the sun shines brightly almost daily in Johannesburg, giving us the strength we need to dive into our projects and find our own little ways to fix Jozi, one piece at a time.