Lest some of our midwestern friends think we are already getting soft by complaining about the South African winter, let me just concede that 66 and sunny does not compare to -6 and snowy. It does not. However, let me tell you why it is actually kinda cold here:
First off, July truly is the “dead of winter” in South Africa. Not until late August will we see spring-like temperatures and some promise that warmth is coming. Granted, winter only lasts about 10 weeks here, but it can get to you.
The issue is that everything here is built for summer. Our guest house and Jenny’s office on campus, for example, are built to keep the heat out, not in. In fact, our place, like many houses here, only has heat in one room. Our little kitchen is not heated and our bathroom has a kind of space heater above the door (which seems counterintuitive since heat rises, but…). A middle-of-night wee can be quite a shock to the system.
At night, temperatures can drop into the low 40’s or high 30’s, and only in the midday sun do you see anything close to 70. Combined with thick, masonry construction and lack of internal heaters, your body never really gets warm. In the U.S., the weather outside may be frightful, but the fire (powering the furnace) is usually so delightful — you actually get a chance to warm up before braving it again. Here? Not so much.
And we’re talking about areas of Pretoria and other cities in South Africa where people have homes at all. If the rich and middle class put up with no heat during winter, imagine how poor folks in the townships and settlements and squatter camps do it. Actually, the Economist recently published a post on their Africa blog about winter in Johannesburg that tells the story quite well.
So, while winter here does not hold an icy candle to winter in Chicago, it’s not entirely warm, either. But we’re not complaining. Until it gets hot.