On our day off last Saturday we organised a trip to hostorical Soweto, a district of Johannesburg famous for being the place where some of the events in the struggle for apartheid took place and also where Nelson Mandela lived for so many years.
Our guide was Martha, a cleaner who works at TLC and who also lives in Soweto and has a real passion for the area. She is a really nice lady with a loud infectious laugh.
Lucky for us, Richard and Arianna had hired a car, so along with their children Philip and Antonia and fellow Misty River resident Rossita, we set off.
The first sight we saw were the Orlando Power Station Cooling Towers, which produced electricity for 56 years. Now they have become an extreme sports centre. You can bungee jump between them and even swing and abseil inside the towers!
After visiting a local bar/pub, we went to visit some of Martha’s family to see how Soweto’s people live. We met Lucky and Thabang (who studies web design ) and were invited to see their home. The rooms are tiny and only contain the essentials like a bed, cooking stove and if they are fortunate, perhaps a washing machine. The toilet is a small little cabin shared by quite a few people.
These houses were made of bricks and morter but right across the road many of the homes were made of make shift materials such as cardboard and sheets of metal.
Next, Martha took us to number 8115 Orlando West, also known as Mandela House. Here, former President Nelson Mandela lived from 1946 until 1962. Mandela returned to the house after his release from Robben Island prison in 1990. He later wrote in his autobiography:
That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.
The house has now been turned into a World Heritage Site museum. The inside hosts some original furnishings and memorabilia including photographs, citations given to Nelson Mandela and the word championship belt given to Mandela by Sugar Ray Leonard.
All this sight seeing made us hungry so for lunch, Martha took us to one of her friends house where we were invited inside. It was a small living room with a sofa, TV, stove and sink and not much else. This was actually one of the government built houses so was much bigger and well constructed than lots of the other housing in Soweto.
Our lunch was a typical South African take away, which consisted of two chunky bits of sliced bread spread with spices and pickles and filled with chips, sausages, ham and all sorts of other weird and wonderful meats. It was hard to eat but very delicious! Plus they were too big for Heidi and Rossita so I got to eat some of theres too! Yum!
After lunch we visited the very interesting Hector Pieterson museum. It depicts the events leading up to, and during, the anti-Afrikaans Soweto Uprising on 16th June 1976. On this day thousands of school children protested against having to study Afrikaans at schools. It was one of the major events which eventually led to the abolition of Apartheid.
Unfortunately about 500 people died during the protests after clashes with the authorities. Hector Pieterson was one of the first children killed and the museum now stands near the spot where he was shot. He became the subject of an iconic image published round the world of the dying Hector being carried by his brother while his sister ran next to them.
Next, we visited one of the poorest areas of Soweto and indeed of South Africa. Kliptown is one of the oldest districts of Soweto and contains squatter camps where thousands of people live with little food and water and inadequate shelter. Martha wanted us to see the reality of what these areas were like and so took us to one of the camps.
We wouldn’t want to just waltz in like tourists and not give anything back, so first we passed a shop and bought lots of packs of crisps to give to the children. The squatter camps have assigned guides. These guides take visitors safely round the camp in return for a small payment.
We walked round the camp meeting lots of the people who were very happy to meet us. Seeing the houses and facilities they have was very hard. The government are slowly helping by building housing and facilities such as portaloos for the camp but progress is slow and not enough. For example, the guides showed us the solitary tap which was shared by most of the camp for all their water requirements.
When we finished our guided tour and arrived back, some of the camp’s children had formed a queue knowing that we had some treats for them. When we started distributing them it became a little more chaotic as this video of Arianna giving the treats out shows:
Then the word spread and children started running from everywhere! Luckily we had enough treats for everyone and all the children managed to get some.
The people of the camp seemed grateful and I’m glad we managed to give something back to them in return for them letting us see their home.
Our final part of the Soweto tour was at Martha’s house! She took us back to her home so we could see where she lives. It was a tiny tiny hut with a bed and not much else. Martha loves it though and one of the really noticable things that we learnt about residents in Soweto was that no matter what their homes were like, their community spirit was alive and really strong! Everyone seems to know everyone else and everyone gets on with their neighbours.
The tour was really insightful and hugely interesting. Being guided by a local meant we got to see more than just the ordinary tourist trail. Martha was really keen to to show us real African life and we managed to experience it!
There was nothing too out of the ordinary that happened this week so to save my hand falling off from too much typing we’ll leave with you with Dog of the Week and some photos of us playing with the Tigers this week. Next week I’m aiming to add a photo of all the children in the main house.