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do we need a rental car in Johannesburg?

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do we need a rental car in Johannesburg?

My husband and I will be in Johannesburg five days, then renting a car to drive to Kruger. We will be staying in Roodepoort and would like to visit Newtown, Braamfontein, Soweto and other areas. We were thinking perhaps it would be best to hire taxis for those 5 days, rather than renting a car and having the stress of driving in a foreign country in a busy city while on the opposite side of the road.

Any opinions on this? Are taxis expensive? Is it easy and safe to drive in Johannesburg?

Thanks! Also, if you have any advice on things not to be missed in Johannesburg, I'd appreciate it!

Brisbane, Australia
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1. Re: do we need a rental car in Johannesburg?

Travelling into central Joburg from Roodepoort is going to cost about R300-R400 each way. I would hire a car. The roads are generally good and there is plenty of signage. There are some terrible drivers on the road, but mostly ok.

New Plymouth
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2. Re: do we need a rental car in Johannesburg?

Roodepoort is some distance out, as Andrew says, the taxi rate from there into downtown Johannesburg is around R300 - R400 each way (around US$30 - $35, depending on exchange rate.) It's around 15 - 20 km (9 - 12 miles) depending on which part of Roodepoort you are coming from.

I too, really, really, didn't want to drive in Johannesburg, and although South Africans, like New Zealanders, drive on the left, I did not want to deal with the stress of driving in a busy city. And that was with a good map, good sense of direction, and staying at a B&B where I am VERY well looked after.

What worked for me - and MAY work for you, was getting a decent taxi driver via the B&B, and negotiating a reasonable daily rate with him. What, exactly, is a reasonable rate depends on the driver, and also on what you will accept, but US$1 per kilometre for short journeys, and US$2 per kilometre for longer ones, is what I found to be a good rule of thumb. There is no flagfall charge, and no extra charge for time stuck in traffic, with or without a meter. (Johannesburg is the only place where I PREFERRED an agreed price with no meter - it tended to cost less). Waiting time is very cheap - one of my drivers cheerfully came back two hours later - on time - and charged me only US$10 extra, which I did not mind, as I was well out of the city centre, and would otherwise have been stuck. Note to self, get a South African mobile 'phone card next time...

For short trips - such as Melville to Braamfontein, I would use any taxi I could find, usually without meters, and usually for 80 rand each way for the four mile journey. Do note though, that Johannesburgers do tend to get very confused when you ask for a taxi. They think you want a large van that goes on a prescribed route, where the passengers use complicated Johannesburger hand signals to tell the driver when and where they want to get on and off, and taxi ranks as we know them in NZ and the US, are very rare, and almost NEVER to be found at a shopping mall, just when you are weighted down with bags and boxes and need one the most! If in doubt, tell them you want a SMALL taxi just for yourself. If they can't help you - and they usually try, go into a shop, buy a tin of coke or a couple of newspapers or something, and ask them to call one for you, which I found they always do. They are cheap by international standards, but very expensive to South Africans, so they are not very popular.

If in Braamfontein, you can often find a taxi on Jorissen Street, or on the corners of cross streets - walk along from the University of the Witwatersrand heading east towards the Fort of Johannesburg and Constitution Hill. I sometimes found a taxi parked in Melville on 7th Avenue. And in the city, you can usually find a few parked outside the Carlton Centre - on Commissioner, Von Weilligh, or Main Streets. If very lucky, you will also find a couple on Rissik Street near the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.

Many people do drive themselves around Johannesburg while on holiday there, but if it would cause you worry... what price piece of mind? The biggest questions I would like you to ask yourself is - have you driven on the left before, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, do you have a good sense of direction? That is, can you look at a map, memorise your route, and not get lost? With or without a rental car, you will probably need a map. I've had to direct South African taxi drivers many times, and since they might not know where, exactly they are going, you have to know yourself. Meanwhile, I just looked at my map of Johannesburg, and noticed that the Western Bypass southbound from Roodepoort has no southbound off-ramps after Maraisburg Road, until you come to the Diepkloof Interchange, and can then head east on the Southern Bypass and back north in a large U shape on the De Villiers Graaf Motorway towards the city centre. Sound complicated? It is, and although you can get satnavs on rental cars, and program them as well as in the West, there is no guarantee that you will be on a safe road, so check the proposed route with the locals before setting out. If you're going to inadvertently end up in a shantytown, they'll tell you.

But, on the other hand, do not worry too much. In spite of, or perhaps BECAUSE of, its high crime rate, Johannesburg is surprisingly, a very friendly city. Perhaps everyone has to look out for each other...

Also, if you DO rent a car, and park it (I have no idea how you will manage that one, especially in downtown), if someone offers to mind it for a few rand, say yes, and give them say five to ten rand on your return. In return, they do their best to stop people breaking into your car. If you go out to dinner, you might like to ask the restaurant to put a bit of food aside to take home (you usually get HUGE servings) - and then give it to your "car minder". They will thank you very much, as they are often very hungry...

Soweto - a tour may be better, it's not so much the distance and cost of taxis (a bit cheaper than getting from Roodepoort to downtown), but more the distance between the attractions, and knowing the significance of what, exactly, you are looking at. Nelson Mandela House was a real disappointment (next to none of his furniture, and contrast that to Jan Smuts's house near Pretoria which is almost as if he still lived there...), but the traditional African Village, the Hector Pieterson Museum, and the tower giving the views of Soweto were great. Ask the guide about the tribal colour codes - e.g. if you were Sotho, and were lucky enough to get a concrete Government House, it had to be painted white. The Zulus were blue, I think.

I hope the above is of some help to you. Now, "not to be missed" things in Johannesburg.

This one is a bit harder. Much as I love the place, must-sees and must-dos are thin on the ground. It's more a great, gigantic, city that seems as if it somehow, is alive, and if it only could, would burst its borders, and tear off across the Highveld in ever increasing circles, carting a colourful cacophony of bright colours and loud pop music with it, as it went.

BUT, if you love history, as I do, you will be fascinated. Johannesburg exploded into life in 1886, after gold was found by George Harrison on Langlaagte (Long Valley) farm, much to the disapproval of Paul Kruger and the government of the Z.A.R. - Zuid-Afriaanse Republiek (South African Republic). Johannesburg was from the start an English-speaking town, and its citizens were deeply distrusted by the remainder of the Z.A.R. They were denied water, gas, electricity, night-soil removal, food - the list goes on, and the few Afrikaners that did provide those things, were labelled as traitors. Nonetheless, a few of them did sell their goods to Johannesburg, and in the meantime, the mining companies, and the citizens themselves, were the ones who set up the Johannesburg Fire Brigade, the local schools, water supply, and electricity company. They might even have had to set up what is today the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department, although I am not so sure on that one. Trouble, of course, followed - the United Kingdom wanted the gold fields of Johannesburg and the wider Witwatersrand (ridge of white waters), for themselves. I have to wonder, if the Z.A.R. had treated the uitlanders (foreigners) more kindly, if the Boer War might have gone rather differently. As three Afrikaners I was discussing the issue with felt, the Jameson Raid's failure was partly due to the Johannesburgers being content to do without their political rights as long as they got their money - Dr Jameson himself accused the city of the same thing - and therefore, how much of a risk were they to the existence of the ZAR? Those three tended to agree with me that denying them food, water, waste disposal and so on, was not only unkind, but very unwise. They even wondered if the city had been given "English Speaking Status" and been integrated into the ZAR, if their uitlanders might have helped them fight. Who knows?

Anyway, all of that was more to try and describe my feeling that the history of the city, its trials, and tribulations, and yet in spite of its troubles, it continues to endure. Johannesburg is the heart of South Africa, and tends to rather literally explode onto the world stage, especially during the dark times of Apartheid, and even today with the crazy things that continually happen. When I was there some crazy ladies were throwing their crap all over the road in Soweto, as the Johannesburg City Council had not emptied their toilet buckets for three months. I felt that if that were the case, the bucket would have become invisible... Anyway, they blocked traffic, threw crap all over cars, AND danced naked. The Police understandably, were dying to arrest them, and equally understandably, did not dare. So they tear-gassed them. All ladies promptly fled the battlefield, screaming that they were dying, but several gave most extensive interviews to The Star the following day... So whatever else happens, you are not going to be bored. One time I saw a man chased down the street by the police, bundled into the boot of a sedan, which was slammed down on his head, and then they squealed off backwards around the corner...

One thing I really enjoyed - was the Gay Johannesburg Tour, run by, of all people, the University of the Witwatersrand - they have a Gay Studies Department. If you go on it, they will take you through the Fort of Johannesburg, explain how the city fell without a shot during the Boer War, then escort you into Hillbrow. (Do not go into Hillbrow without a very trustworthy guide.) So many things were against the law during Apartheid times, that the Police did not know who to chase first. So, very ironically, a large gay scene developed in 1960s Hillbrow, not to mention the "wicked straight people who didn't stick to their own ethnic group", who also hid out there. In both groups, for once it was the WHITES who got punished hardest - they had an image to keep up, after all... They will also tell you about the male "wives" in the black miners camps, show you the now derelict gay bars, and take you to the Constitutional Court, where the rights of South Africans - including gay ones - are upheld, built on the site where thousands were imprisoned for their "immoral ways" - again, that included a lot of straights who strayed from their own ethnicity.

You might also enjoy the extensive views from the top of the Carlton Centre, the origin of humankind centre at the University of the Witwatersrand, and if you can get out there, the Sterkfontein (Strong Spring) Caves, labelled "the cradle of humankind" - inhabited about two million years ago. And yet, when the whites turned up, Johannesburg was a very sparsely populated area indeed.

That's probably enough from me for now, but I hope you will get under the skin of this place, and come to love it as I do. When I was growing up it was "the city where fear and loathing reign supreme." These days it's trying to go on a healthier diet of urban renewal. And whatever else it is, it is NEVER boring. The craziest stuff happens most days, but the Johannesburgers take it all in their stride.

3. Re: do we need a rental car in Johannesburg?

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