Sunday, 28 November 2010

Jo'burg City Life, day 8

How strange it was to wake up in the plush Melrose Arch city centre hotel this morning, I miss showering outdoors with my little Geko from Sabi Sabi already!
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and made our way out of Johannesburg city centre past the Soccer City stadium which hosted the World Cup Final earlier this year into the township of Soweto (short for South Western Township) where we were going on a cycle tour.

I know every country and indeed every city has it poor parts but South Africa doesn't just have poor it has serious poverty and although the government here are working hard to build proper homes for everyone, I can't help wondering how anyone can justify spending these astronomical amounts of money to build sports stadiums and host events like this when there are millions of people with absolutely nothing - no shoes, no indoor toilet, no running water etc. Maybe I think about things too much but that's me.

Soweto is the biggest of Johannesburg's townships, with a population of 3-4 million and is home to both millionaires as well as those in desperate poverty. It's most famous address is Vilakazi Street - the only street in the world which has housed 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Not so long ago Soweto was a scary place to be but we went off on our bicycles to tour the township with Solomon a local lad trying to bring a better view of the place to those who visit.

I didn't get very far - typically! Having been told it was too hot and I was showing signs of altitude sickness (Jo'burg is over 6,000ft) I was shipped back to the backpackers base when I promptly parted company with my breakfast and was told to lay in the hammock with a cold compress on my head and play with the parrot. I was gutted not to have finished the cycle tour, I was really looking forward to it. What I did see however, were happy people - a very tight knit community where everyone watches out for everyone and even though you have very little you share what you do have with your neighbour who has nothing.

Once everyone was back at the backpackers base, we met up with another tour guide who took us to the centre of Soweto to Vilakazi Street where we ate lunch at the famous Sakhumzi Restaurant, just down from Nelson Mandela's house (which is now a museum).

After lunch (which I thankfully managed to digest!) we went on a mini-bus tour.

Our first stop was the Regina Mundi Church, the largest Catholic Church in Soweto. It played a huge role in the community during the struggle against Apartheid where it held political meetings and offered protection during the uprisings. On June 16th 1976 (6 days before I was born) the police opened fire on students who were holding a peaceful demonstration, many fled to Regina Mundi for safety and the police then stormed the church too - it still bears the scars of that day, bullet holes and damaged figures can still be seen.

As we were standing outside listening to the story I became aware of the most beautiful voice singing, I turned around and there was a girl of about 12 walking home from school just singing a hymn to herself. Her voice was so beautiful and clear, it made the hairs on my arms stand on end and made this stop all the more poignant.

Our next stop was the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in the suburb of Kliptown. Walter Sisulu was a delegate at the 1955 Congress of the People and deputy president of the ANC. It was here on 26th June 1955 that the ANC Freedom Charter (the basis to the Constitution) was proclaimed to thousands of people. On the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter in June 2005, a flame of freedom was lit in the monument which houses a huge stone engraved with the Freedom Charter.
As we walked around the centre stone reading the Freedom Charter an elderly man sat in the doorway playing the national anthem on a penny whistle - it was very emotional, reading what the people of this nation were fighting so hard for, things that we take for granted.

Our final stop was in the centre of Kliptown at a project/museum aiming to educate local people and visitors about the past and how to maintain positivity for the future. His stories were endless but his experiences of the past and visions for the future were plain to see. Despite what the people of South Africa have been through, they remain so positive that equality will eventually become the norm and it won't matter what religion you practice, what surname you have or what colour your skin is - you will have exactly the same rights as everyone else in the country.

1 comment:

  1. I love your blog. Sorry I have not been around in a while. I also wanted to wish you a very Happy New year - if I have not already done so.


Thank you for your comment, it's always good to know what people think of my adventures and crafty stuff :o)