Wednesday, September 2, 2015

July 15 - Apartheid History Tour of Soweto (Johannesburg)

After a hearty breakfast of eggs to order, sausages and local bacon  (yum!) we were met by our fabulous guide and loaded into a spacious Mercedes Sprinter van.  We drove about 30 minutes through various upscale neighborhoods of the northern suburbs with lush gardens, stone walls, and impressive architecture.  It felt a little like Beverly Hills at times…We made our way to the southern part of town passing by the high rises and experiencing a bit of the rush hour traffic on the modern freeway next to downtown.  Eventually we reached Soweto which is an acronym for South West Township.  

Most of us have heard to Soweto because it was where the black workers lived during apartheid and was the center of the struggle against the racist system.  Originally it was a slum but now it surprisingly is home to both millionaires, middle and poor working classes.  Unemployment is horrible in Soweto at between 40-60% depending on the source.  We were impressed with how clean and nice most of the suburbs were - there was even a huge shopping mall!  Many of the poorest areas we visited had row houses for workers much like the houses we see in California for migrant workers.  Fortunately the government is building new housing called Mandela Houses which will have running water, electricity, proper sewage, etc… It seems like things are looking up and we felt perfectly safe as we traveled around this huge community.  Our first stop was at Freedom Square where the manifesto was signed outlining the demands of the blacks to the apartheid regime.  From there we went to a very significant church where the police had trapped innocent school children who were protesting a new rule that forced them to learn Afrikans language and then opened fire on them.

This sparked huge outrage in South Africa as it was broadcast to the nation and was one of the major historical moment in the movement to end apartheid.  Next we visited a museum dedicated to one of the youths that was killed by the police.  It was a very powerful experience as we read the history and looked at photos that were captured during the massacre.  There were also TV clips and radio broadcasts that really brought the fear and terror alive for us.  Next we visited Nelson Mandela’s home where he lived with his wife Winnie.  The home was very simple and restored to its original state with his furniture, writing desk, letters from prison, photos with world leaders like Fidel Castro and more…We took a break for a local style lunch and then went to the superb Apartheid Museum which is a one of the top museums in Africa featuring an extensive collection of apartheid era films, books, news articles, photos, vintage cars, military weapons and vehicles used by the security police and much much more.  The museum really deserves 2 visits as it takes at least 3 hours to absorb all of the displays and exhibits.  At the end of the day we had a very thorough and touching education about this tragic era in history and we were glad that we had made time on our journey for this tour.  Our guide was superb and funny at the same time.  He was a real character and had us laughing so hard when he described American Football as a bunch of huge men hugging and tickling each other…:)

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