My first trip to South Africa, twenty years ago, was in August when it was rainy and cloudy in Cape Town, but warm and sunny in Johannesburg. With a wet, thick gloomy fog layer hovering overhead, I did not have a chance to appreciate Cape Town, and I thought that Johannesburg was the stunning jewel of South Africa. This was long before there were a million tourist books and websites to tell me that Johannesburg is the ugly, dangerous commercial capital of South Africa.
That first impression never left me, and while I now trumpet Cape Town as the unequivocally most beautiful city on planet earth, I still find greater Johannesburg to be remarkably pretty in how it incorporates abundant trees and parks into into its cityscape. Sometimes when we are on a conference call with a colleague who lives in the heart of Johannesburg, we will hear birds and crickets in the background, and I long for the days when I called Johannesburg home.
A Surreal Experience in Johannesburg
In the last week, Johannesburg, known for its mines, shopping, and commercial activity, has been inundated with a migration of white butterflies. The phenomenon is highly unusual, and makes for a beautiful, almost surreal experience.
Many who have lived in Johannesburg for decades have never experienced this torrent of the graceful “flying flowers” as they are sometimes called. However, there are some unconfirmed reports that every five to ten years, Johannesburg has been the stage for this short lived, beautiful deluge of rare, white butterflies.
The scientific crowd explains that this species of butterflies comes from the Kalahari Desert, south of Johannesburg, and when their population explodes, they deplete all of their available food sources and migrate to an area with abundant sources of nourishment.
Sangomas, or African traditional healers offer an alternative explanation. In common with several cultures around the world, they believe that white butterflies symbolize our human ancestors, and especially those who were pure in heart who now serve as angels from on high, coming to bring grace to those who struggle along the path of life.
Whatever the explanation, the white butterflies in January, together with the annual blossoming of the lavender colored jacaranda trees each October, are just part of the plethora of flora and fauna that make Johannesburg so much more than a concrete jungle.
Teresa H. Clarke is the Chairman, CEO and Executive Editor of Africa.com LLC. She founded the company in 2010 after resigning from her position as a managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs & Co. Ms. Clarke received a bachelor’s degree in economics, cum laude, from Harvard College, an MBA from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.