03.03.2016 - 03.19.2016
It's a sunny day and we are ready to experience a glimpse of the Soweto neighborhood, home to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. I'm finding what I see and hear a bit hard to process. The day starts with a drive through the affluent areas near our hotel. People live in beautiful houses behind solid walls , topped by razor wire.
We stop at Nelson Mandela's house in Houghton Estates, a beautiful house with lots of windows overlooking beautiful gardens. OK, a house is a house, but what strikes me the most are the little stones placed around the trees, curbside to his home with messages written on them by visitors from all over the world. They were placed there when he was ill and after his death. I find this to be an endearing tribute.
We continue on and take a drive through the old downtown of Johannesburg. At first sight, it looks like any other city but a closer look reveals deep poverty and decline. All of the storefronts are just storefronts...nothing is occupied above street level. Some buildings have squatters living in them without utilities and other buildings have been bricked up. Companies have abandoned their businesses and moved to the outskirts to start new.
We make the drive across the Nelson Mandela Bridge to the outskirts of Soweto. Charl, our guide points out the great distance this township is from the main city...a deliberate tactic of the apartheid government to separate themselves from the Black poplulation. A typical type of house here is called a matchbox. We walk to Nelson Mandela's house, now a museum. It consists of a living room, two bedrooms and a tiny kitchen area and pantry. Four people lived in this home. The house has had some restoration but the residue of a fire-bombing by the police was left on the brick face as a reminder of history. It gives me goosebumps!
We make a stop at the Hector PIeterson memorial, the first child killed and his body picked up by a teenager during a protesting of the sudden government decision to deliver lessons only in Afrikaans (meant to oppress Blacks).
The Apartheid Museum is an amazing place. It very much reminds me of the Holocaust Museum. The story of South Africa from the Black perspective. As we enter, we are each given a ticket labeled "Black" or "White" and directed to the appropriate entrance...(to help us experience that feeling of racial segregation). Very well done in my opinion...I actually do experience that whiff of fear, despair and hope. And activism!
On the ride home, Rick notices signs that read "hijacking hotspot" in several different areas on the highway. Charl, explains that these are dangerous areas....definitely do not stop your car here and good luck to you if you run out of gas or your car breaks down. People are known in these areas to get mugged, robbed and/or worse!
We also notice people practicing their religion in the woods, off the sides of roads and various other areas. They are part of the peaceful resistance movement. This is part of Ghandi following, they dress in white, practice the freedom to worship, receive no government aid and their motto is: " what is important is what is inside you....nothing else". And how true is that!
Farewell dinner with those returning home tonight...hugs all around..let's stay in touch!