Experiencing the Inner Beauty of Soweto
Sonny, our guide for the day, picked me up from my hotel where I was staying in Melrose Arch. As I hadn’t left this gated complex since I’d arrived two days previously, I was intrigued to find out what was on the other side of these huge walls.
Sonny was really fantastic from the moment he picked me up, to the moment he dropped me off. He was very informative, but also a very vibrant character, who brought a lot of fun and light heartedness to the trip, despite the serious topics we were discussing.
As I did my tour on Good Friday, where absolutely everything is shut on this bank holiday, even the museums, Sonny promised to make it up to us and show us a bit of Johannesburg too.
We began in Houghton, a very wealthy suburb with huge houses and even huger walls and gates surrounding them. One particular house we stopped at in 4th Avenue, Lower Houghton, was the house Nelson Mandela passed away in, which is now also a site of remembrance.
We continued with the tour, driving through the streets of Johannesburg, where Sonny informed us not only of the current political situation, but also took time to explain to us many other interesting pieces of information, such as why the streets are overflowing with rubbish (strikes).
Sonny managed to get us parked in front of the First National Bank Stadium (FNB) which was technically barricaded off, due to a huge Easter pilgrimage that was taking place.
Afterwards, we drove to Soweto, which is actually an abbreviation for South Western Townships, which I had never expected to be so large, covering an area of approximately 80 square miles!
Sonny not only drove us around, showing us the three types of homes, according to the Sowetan class system, but also told us a lot about the history and struggles against the former apartheid regime.
Within Soweto, we also stopped at houses of interest, such as Winnie’s, where we were informed a bit about her as a person and killing of the 14 year old Stompie Moeketsi, and along Vilakazi street, where Tutu still has a modest house and where Mandela had formerly lived. The house where Mandela had lived with Winnie before he was sentenced, has since been turned into a small museum which despite it being closed that particular day, it still attracted large crowds of tourists and a great atmosphere provided by local street artists.
Remembering Hector Pieterson
One very poignant part of the tour for me, was discovering about the Soweto Uprising and thus the tragic death of Hector Pieterson, a 13 year old schoolboy who was shot dead by the police. We visited the street corner where the event happened and continued onto the Hector Pieterson memorial site. Behind the memorial were some locals selling beautiful souvenirs, which were mostly all handmade.
Beforehand, Sonny had shown us the Sowetan handshake, which the locals greeted us with and took their time to talk to us and made us feel incredibly welcome. I can only advise tourists to support these people and buy their gifts from them, instead of supporting the large commercialised gift shops.
We also stopped at the Orlando power station, a very prominent landmark on the Sowetan horizon, consisting of two brightly painted towers (the largest mural painting in South Africa).
Sonny even stopped long enough for us to take photos and watch one brave lady do a bungee jump from the platform between the top of the two towers.
Overall, one cannot and should not visit Johannesburg,
without seeing and experiencing Soweto.
It is a very thought provoking and meaningful tour, which gives you a true insight into the former apartheid regime. Despite the poverty and tragic history within Soweto, the locals were some of the most welcoming and caring people I had encountered in South Africa during my three week travels.