18 May Johannesburg
We have reached Johannesburg, the country’s and the continent’s economic hub. Known to South Africans as Jo’burg, its Zulu name is more telling – eGoli, the place of gold, hinting at both its gold rush origins and its present-day affluence. Many come to this 8-million plus megalopolis in search of an all too elusive fortune that seldom arrives, which might explain Johannesburg’s extremely high crime rate. The difference between the glitzy high-end quarters and the dilapidated areas is just as striking. We couldn’t miss going to Soweto, Africa’s largest township, which was established to house black South Africans in the apartheid era and propelled the protest movement inspired by Nelson Mandela, leading to the downfall of the racial segregation regime in 1994. It’s a vast and composite area encompassing middle-class neighborhoods and sprawling shantytowns whose common denominator is their all black population. We are accompanied by Riccardo Bianchi, a carabiniere stationed at the Italian Consulate in Johannesburg and president of SOS Infanzia nel Mondo, an Italian NGO volunteering in the neighborhood. He takes us to a very special place, Gauteng province’s only school for autistic children whose families can’t afford private instruction. Although it’s a public institution, since state funding does not even cover basic needs, SOS Infanzia nel Mondio helps pay for school meals and learning materials. Today is a special day – thanks to Riccardo’s NGO and an anonymous donor, the school is getting a school bus for kids who live too far away to walk to classes. Happy news that warm the heart.