Soweto

Johannesburg Travel Blog

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Yesterday we travelled from Maputo to Johannesburg on a Greyhound bus - we were not used to such luxury - we nearly fell off our seats when we were offered a cup of tea.  We booked into a hostel in a reasonable area of J'burg, where we could at least walk around.

This morning we were out early for our tour of Soweto.  "Soweto" is an anachronym for "south-west townships" and is the biggest township in SA at well over 150 square kms. Five million people live in this relatively small area.  Our guide, Arnold (who lives in Soweto) took four of us in his car, and one of our first stops was to see the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the biggest in the world.

Soweto
  It gets approx. 2000 people through its doors on a daily basis, and over half of those are HIV positive.  Apparently 950 people die from AIDS related illnesses everyday in SA, a staggering statistic.  We had a walk about (lots of people saying hello to us) and had a good view of the urban sprawl, punctuated by two big cooling towers and a power station - during apartheid these were used to power the white suburbs, whilst most of Soweto's inhabitants survived without electricity.

Much of Soweto has been upgraded (even though the majority of people still live in very small houses) but there are still some shanty areas.  We visited one, and as soon as we got out of the car we each had four small children hanging from us and shouting and laughing.  We went inside one of the shanty houses and met a grandmother who looked after two grandchildren, surviving on the money she made from sewing and altering clothes.

  She was an amazing woman, welcoming us into her spotless home, and with a lovely sense of humour.

We also visited the excellent 'Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum,'  which documents the 1976 Soweto uprising.  It began in response to the government's insistence on Afrikaans being used as the language of instruction in schools.  Understandably, grades plumetted and anger and frustration rose.  15,000 primary and secondary schoolchildren gathered peacefully on the streets of Orlando West, Soweto, to take a petition to a local police sation.  The police were totally unprepared for such a large gathering, panicked, and shot into the crowd, killing Hector Pieterson, aged 13.  An older boy picked him up and ran, and this is the heartbreaking image that stands as a photograph outside the museum.

The biggest hospital in the world
  Over the next few days, 600 people were killed, mainly young people.  It marked the politicalisation of the youth of SA, particularly in Soweto, where teenagers informed their parents which days of the week they were to stay at home and strike.

Last stop was Vilikazi St., where Nelson Mandela lived before he was imprisoned and where he returned briefly to live before becoming president.  Desmond Tutu still lives on the same street, and hence it is the only street in the world that can boast two Nobel Peace Prize winners. 

We spent the afternoon seeing the other face of SA.  We did what most  white SA's spend their leisure time doing in J'burg - we visited a mall.  The Northern suburbs of J'burg are a different world - huge mansions with gardens and swimming pools, whose residents spend their time in the safe cocoons of shopping malls.  Most white SA's have never visited a township and have no idea why anyone would want to.

seraphimkarlien says:
Seems a bit inappropriate to *smile* at this maybe, but how else to express praise for this well-written and interesting blog entry? At least we can smile because Apartheid is in the past, I guess.
Posted on: Dec 09, 2009
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Soweto
Soweto
The biggest hospital in the world
The biggest hospital in the world
Soweto
Soweto
Joburg by night
Jo'burg by night