DAY IN SOWETO
I booked a place on a tour of Soweto. My friendly driver, Adolph, was at the door of my home right on time and so began a day of adventure. Adolph and I met up with the three other couples and a single lady all having been collected from different areas of Johannesburg. This is a feat that requires organization – Johannesburg is a huge, spread out city. My fellow passengers were from Brazil, Switzerland, Bermuda, England and two of us from South Africa. It was a nice mix of cultures and we got chatting when we met up just outside of Soweto. Our new driver and guide Fresh, headed down Chis Hani Road past the Baragwanath Hospital, the largest in Africa and 3rd largest in the world.
We stopped outside an informal settlement, and Musa the local guide, walked us energetically through a muddy, winding road where families sat outside passing the time of day, mums busy washing the days clothes in an open bucket and a pre-school where the children sang some songs for us and smiled and hugged us, but had only the beaten mud floor to sit on. No waste here, with walls and roofing of corrugation and any available scrap. Fencing of recycled bed springs and any other material that might act as a no-go zone into their little yards. At the end of the walk some of us were happy to donate some cash to Musa for the pre-school. He assured us he would deliver it to the school – but if he kept some for himself that would be OK too. He looked like he could use it.
It was already getting hot and we were grateful to join Fresh in his airconditioned, upmarket minivan. We headed to the high-end area of Orlando West to see the other side of Soweto. There are some beautiful homes with manicured gardens, in the 1 to 2 million range in this neighbourhood.
He told us some interesting stories. Driving though an area he called Chubb Kozi, he explained that it was the place that people hid away from police when they were in hot pursuit after a theft!! A little township humour - Chubb is a well-known name of suppliers of home and bank safes!! We drove past the infamous mine Hostels of the 1950’s in which up to 60 men were housed in dormitories with limited ablution facilities and running water. Many now house families and conditions are still not great!!
Then on to Vilakazi Street. Famously the only street in the world that housed two Nobel Peace prize winners. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Mandela’s house is now a museum and is simple, but very evocative of a great man, who was able to move beyond his own 27 years of loss and suffering, and who taught South Africans how to forgive and move past years of hatred and shocking violence.
The Hector Pietersen Museum was our next stop. This museum, opened in 2002, and honours the Sowetan schoolchildren tragically slain in a police massacre in 1976 which was the start of Soweto Uprising that led ultimately to the break down of the infamous Apartheid era. Hector was just one of many who lost their lives in this shameful time in South African history. Their names are all recorded on brick sized stones laid outside the museum in commemoration. Heart-breaking and poignant. With great sadness I recalled that notorious time in South African history. We were all greatly moved.
Waiting for stragglers in our group to join us at the minivan, I went over to an inviting looking bakery and got a delicious chocolate brownie and cold ginger beer. We drove to the iconic Soweto Towers where the tour ended for the half day passengers. Drivers met them there to take them to their respective homes/hotels.
The rest of us headed off for lunch at Chaf Pozi at the base of the towers. This is a shebeen style experience, offering local food, music, drink and culture. Simple but tasty food at an African Braai. Shisa Nyama is their catch word, meaning meat cooked on open flame. If Chaf Pozi is closed for the day you will be taken to an equivalent type of restaurant in the area.
Having had our full of food and drink we set off for the Apartheid Museum. On arrival I was confronted with one of the basic tenets of Apartheid – separation of people by colour. There are two entrances, one marked ‘Whites’ the other ‘Non Whites’. For anyone wanting to understand and experience what apartheid South Africa was really like, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is fundamental. A series of 22 individual exhibition areas takes the visitor through a dramatic emotional journey that tells a story of a state-sanctioned system based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overthrow this tyranny. The museum is a beacon of hope showing the world how South Africa is coming to terms with its oppressive past and working towards a future that all South Africans can call their own.
I highly recommend this Soweto tour with Getlocal.Africa for all South Africans and tourists alike. South Africans are friendly and happy and even in the worst living conditions able to smile and make a joke. The heart break and the joy are part of every living experience!!
It was a wonderful encounter in a shanty town grown into a city with heart.
Get out there and live a little with this Soweto Tour Half Day. A full day tour with lunch and the Apartheid Museum gives a whole experience.