Journey to Jo'burg by Beverlery Naidoo relates the difficulties experienced by Naledi and Tiro as they try to reach their mother who works in Johannesburg, South Africa. The book also exposes the unjust system of Apartheid which the children become openly exposed to on their journey. Only in the 1990s was the book which had been published in 1985 available within South Africa.
The story begins with baby Dineo's illness and the children's dilemma. Naledi, despite being only thirteen, is worried that the baby could die, just like another baby had the previous week. 'Mma, the children's mother, works far from the village where her family lives as she, like so many black women, has been forced to look for work in the city, leaving her children behind. Having always lived within the safety of their village, the children have no concept of the distance between themselves and their mother and, armed with only a few supplies and their mother's address, they set off to find her and bring her back so that she can nurse baby Dineo back to health.
In chapter 2, "The Road," the children start their trek but the journey is not what they expect. Apart from not realizing how far the 300 kilometers to Johannesburg is, they also know very little about the racist culture that exists outside of their village except how their uncle once forgot his "Pass book" and was sent to a prison farm because of it. They are afraid to travel without their own pass book, imagining the effects of being caught without one. Even in school, there is a song about the consequences.
On the way, the children help themselves to some oranges and are warned by a young black boy working in the fields about the "white farmer...who has a gun to shoot thieves." The boy offers to help the children. A friendly face and a place to stay among the orange sacks with some food reassure the children who are more than happy to tuck into some "pap," a staple, porridge-like meal of corn. Catching a lift to Jo'burg and even having a little money from a friendly truck-driver so that they can catch a bus to Mma's address means the children are closer than ever to reaching Mma. The children's father cannot help them as he died from "the coughing sickness" tuberculosis. However, boarding the bus proves to be another shock as the children try to board the wrong bus and are unaware of the different buses for different races and that they need to wait for the "Non-whites only" bus! Fortunately, Grace, a friendly young black woman whose mother works close to the children's mother's address, helps them navigate this difficulty.
The children are grateful that Grace offers to let them stay with her in Soweto for the night but are confused because now that they have found their mother, they want to stay with her until they can return to the village the next day. They come to realize that they are not permitted to stay in Parktown, a "white" area and must go with Grace to her home in Soweto (an acronym from the phrase South Western Townships).
Later, on the train the children get separated from Grace and, pushed off the train due to the crowds, they witness a "pass raid." Their efforts to help come too late and a father is taken away in a police van. The man's son is very angry but cannot do anything about it. Fortunately for the children, Grace has come back to look for them.