Hey guys! Yesterday (after 15 hours of flying), we safely arrived in Johannesburg around 6:30 at night, and it was already pitch black out. My family chose not to go out and about because we were all exhausted and hungry, so we went for dinner at the hotel and stayed around the property. Today we had a scheduled tour in Soweto, so I’ll give you the details of that.
So for a quick background on Soweto- the township’s name stands for Southwestern Township, and it’s the area that the Dutch forced the native Africans into during the Apartheid era. Many people still reside in the same houses they were forced into during that time, but have added gates in front of their houses or added on to the house itself. Nelson Mandela lived in that area before he was sent to jail, and his house now serves as the Mandela Museum.
So we left the hotel with our tour guide, Ilan Ossendryver of http://www.toursoweto.com, at 10:30 this morning. Ilan has worked as a photojournalist for 30 years, and last year re-discovered Soweto when someone who had seen one of his pictures he’d taken of Mandela while working as a photojournalist asked him to take them around the township. Ilan said at first the people of the town were hesitant to him when he first started touring there, but have become extremely friendly since he started saying hello to them and touring around their more often. He introduced us to several of his friends from the area during our tour, and they were all extremely nice. Ilan was a great guide from being friendly with the locals to being extremely knowledgeable about the area, and I’d recommend his tour for anyone thinking of going to Johannesburg.
Anyways, we arrived in Soweto about half an hour later and started off by walking through the market set up along one of the main streets of the neighborhood. We met up with one of Ilan’s friends, a man in his twenties named Tonga (I hope I spelled his name right) , who Ilan said writes poetry and lives in a house composed of one room filled with his siblings and cousins. Tonga came with us as we walked through the market, saying hi to all of his friends and being just as helpful as Ilan. The ladies manning the booths said hi to all of us, and constantly asked Ilan to take their pictures with his camera, or if the pictures he’d taken of them in the past had been printed out yet. Their booths were filled with everything from fruit and vegetables to incense and healing medicines. Here are a couple pictures of the market:
After walking through the market, we walked over to Tonga’s neighborhood to go through it and see what was going on. The neighborhood was truly an eye-opening experience. The houses were close together and several dirt paths winded between to act as roads. Some of the houses were just as they were in the Apartheid era, with no gates and small yards, but several had added gates and extra walls. Laundry of every color of the rainbow was draped over these gates, set out to dry. Trash was piled up right by the railroad tracks that ran in front of the area, adjacent to a sign that read “No Dumping”. Broken glass and stones were scattered in the road, and a river of sewage ran on both sides of the road due to the fact that there was no plumbing. Despite the neighborhood’s appearance, I have never seen happier people. They greeted us from every side of the street, saying hi to Ilan and asking us where we were from. A little boy, Tundor (not sure if I spelled that name right either), followed us around the whole time, barefoot. We walked into the kindergarten, and my family was greeted by several different hugs, handshakes, high-fives, and hand-holds. The children were absolutely adorable and it was amazing to see how happy they all were to have visitors. After seeing the school, we visited with some of the more elderly women in the neighborhood, whom Ilan gave gifts to. After finishing up walking around the village, we headed over to the hotel which was just across the street. Here are some pictures from the neighborhood:
As you can see from those pictures, being in that village was truly eye-opening and something I know I’ll never forget.
But anyways, after stopping for refreshments at the Hotel Soweto, we headed over to the June 16th 1976 Memorial, which commemorates a day in which many of Soweto’s African American students stood up against the teaching of Afrikaans in their school system. The memorial features a huge outdoor mural that goes along with the timeline of the day, and an indoor art museum. Here are some pictures from it:
After that memorial, we went over to the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is dedicated to the first boy who lost his life on June 16th, 1976. The museum featured many pictures and eyewitness accounts from that day, along with talking about how the news spread around the world. Pictures weren’t allowed in the museum, so I don’t have anything to share from there.
After the museum, Ilan drove us back to our hotel and we ended our fantastic tour. From getting to meet so many kind people to seeing the beautiful memorials, it was a great way to spend my first day in South Africa. It was especially an eye-opening experience to meet the people of that neighborhood, and see how happy they are despite how little they live with. Tomorrow, my last day in Johannesburg, my family is going to the Apartheid Museum then flying on to Port Elizabeth. I’m not sure when I’ll have internet again to be able to update you guys, but hopefully soon!