We Love Jozi - Surprised?

Trip Start Oct 31, 2012
Trip End Nov 28, 2012

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What I did
Soweto and Apartheid Museum

Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Being a little apprehensive about tackling Johannesburg on our own, we chose to go on a Themba Soweto and Apartheid Museum day tour.   We buzzed about the city in our minivan with our most amiable guide, Patrick, and it was an interesting, informative, confronting, humbling and uplifting day!
We were absolutely blown away by Johannesburg.  I thought Sydney had an abundance of jacaranda trees (showy purple flowering trees, native to Brazil, but flourishing in Africa and Australia in November), but Jo'burg wins!  We drove down wide jacaranda-lined avenues past some gorgeous homes on streets that were far less congested than most of Sydney's.  Via a ring road expressway, we were soon in Soweto.  

 Did you know that Soweto has a population of 5 million, making it one of the largest and densest populated areas in the southern hemisphere?
The first homes we saw in Soweto were quite luxurious, owned by well-to-do blacks. This isn't what I thought Soweto was like.  We passed by many relatively substantial brick houses of a basic design.   After Apartheid, the government built these for the people who were living in the shanties.  These houses mostly lie empty.  The people didn't want them.  Why move there and pay rent, electricity and water when they could remain in their shacks for free (squatting) and tap into the community water and electricity supplies?

We drove past a modern shopping mall and the magnificent football stadium, The stadium is also known by its nickname "The Calabash" due to its resemblance to the African pot or gourd.  It is where Nelson Mandela made his first speech after his release in 1990 and it had a major overhaul for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Impressive.
Another stop was at Freedom Square to read the Freedom Charter Memorial, which laid down the post-Apartheid Bill of Rights.  We also passed by the largest hospital in the world, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and the Regina Mundy Chrurch where people sought refuge from the police bullets during the student uprising of June 16, 1976, however, the police followed them into the church and fired live ammunition at them.  
We visited Kliptown, a shanty town, which was what I had expected all of Soweto to be like, and we were invited into a private home/shack where a young woman and her toddler and baby lived. They share community toilets (port-a-loos), but everyone seemed to have mobile phones, which they charge by tapping into the electricity.  There was loud music blaring away as well.  I am not sure whether it was for our entertainment, or whether it is all the time. I was interested to ask some grade eleven students who were returning from school after sitting their year-end English exam if I could have a look at the question paper.  It was almost exactly what you would give an Australian Grade 11 student.  They were neatly dressed (as was nearly every African school student we saw!) and very polite.  I wished them well in their remaining exams, and it was just like talking to students in Australia!

A visit to a local 'shebeen' is a must on a visit to Soweto.  These are local drinking holes.  Here we tasted the local Johannesburg beer (foul!) and were entertained by a group of very double-jointed young men.  
We stopped at the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum.  This sacred site is dedicated to the memory of a 13 year old student who was gunned down by police during the student uprising on 16/6/1976.  The injured boy was scooped up and carried off to help, but he died.  His martyrdom became the symbol of the fight for freedom and equal rights.  We travelled down Vilakazi Street, home to Desmond Tutu and where Nelson and Winnie Mandela lived before Nelson was arrested.  We stopped at the Mandela Home, but didn't go into the museum, but peeked through the heavy security fence.  Across the street, is the Mandela Family Restaurant, a business establishment of the ex Mrs, Mandela, Winnie.
Lunch was at the famousWandie's Place in Soweto.  The room is papered with business cards from all over the world.  The food was good and the African musicians, very entertaining.
It seemed only a few minutes until we were at the Apartheid Museum.  Gee, it's easy to get around Johannesburg! 

 Our entrance ticket told us whether we were white or non-white and we had to enter via the appropriate gate.  Hubby and I were different colours!  Photography was not permitted inside the museum, but a nice view of the Johannesburg skyline could be seen from outside.  Inside, there was a special Nelson Mandela exhibition.  I spent one hour of our allotted two hours learning much more about Nelson Mandela,  He truly is an impressive man and I am sorry to learn that he has not been in the best of health recently.  He truly is the father of the modern day South Africa.  Although his work is continuing, there is still a long road to absolute freedom.  The remainder of the museum chronicles the struggle of the blacks to achieve equality. I would have liked to have spent more time here to absorb everything.  I'll have to study the Apartheid Museum website to read up on more details.  If you are interested, take a look as well.

Our drive back tot the hotel was speedy, even though we were in the midst of peak hour traffic.  Johannesburg was such a pleasant surprise and I would certainly recommend a visit similar to what we did.  I am aware that we only saw part of the city and only  the surface, and am aware of the seedier, and more violent nature of parts of the city.  We did hear a few horror stories about Johannesburg which i won't relate here.  The inequalities are very evident, and even though we had a wonderful experience there, I don't think I would like to live in Johannesburg.  It is nice to live in a country were we can feel relatively safe in our homes and move freely about our cities. 



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