Touching down in Johannesburg I was not sure I had reached Africa at all. Shiny airport, smooth immigration process – no forms, no taxes, no visa and the luggage came, on time. Maybe I had been away far too long.
The lovely Lori Shlagman picked us up and guided us on a whistle stop tour that did it all. First up was Melrose Arch and Rosebank – sparkling shopping centres in the wealthy suburbs, much like those that can be found all over the world. The craft market in Rosebank was definitely worth a visit though. I had to restrain myself buying elephant themed, well… everything.
In the afternoon we left the wealthy suburbs and took a different track. We teamed up with David, a friend of Lori’s, and he took us on a driving tour of Soweto – the South Western township known for its struggle under Apartheid and of course Nelson Mandela.
Now here was Africa. A hive of activity – combi vans teeming with people and occasionally live chickens, young kids playing soccer in the dirt with rubbish lining the streets . Soweto gave us an insight into South Africa’s past, and its future.
Our first stop was Freedom Square where a toothless local ran through the 10 points of the freedom charter before playing the national anthem on the recorder, through his nose!
Next we tracked the freedom movement past Mandela’s house on Vilakazi street – the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel prize winners (a prize if you know the other…) and now aptly named Nobel Lauberate walk ;). We tracked the march by schoolchildren protesting about decree for schools to teach in Afrikaans from the school it began to the point at which Hector Pieterson was shot. As one of the first young boys to die in the uprising his picture lives on as a symbol of the struggle.Next we took a detour from the typical tourist route to an absolute highlight. As wonderfully wacky as you get – Oppenheimer park. Not only is there a great viewing tower to see all of Soweto but the village built by Credo Mutwa. Quite the character, a Zulu shaman who developed his own philosophy of the world and illustrated it through sculpture and paintings. Prophecies of 9/11 and the spread of HIV/AIDS years before their time are heralded by his fanatical followers. It is a sight to be seen.
We did not only get a look at Soweto’s past but also it’s future. Change was palpable. We drove by rows upon rows of newly built housing on newly paved roads complete with signposts! We stopped in brand new glass roofed shopping centre – the Melrose Arch of Soweto, teeming with new consumers. Hector Pieterson stood large in the Atrium as if to act as a reminder of where we were. It was a fitting way to end the day and I couldn’t think of a better introduction to our trip. Thanks so much to Lori and David. We will definitely be back.