Rainbow nation – Three days in Johannesburg

We flew the short flight to Johannesburg and met the next family members, cousin Vicky and uncle Dave. After a lunch with them, it was farewell to the family after a fantastic 2 weeks.

As we left the airport in Dave’s car we were pulled over by the police. He wasn’t carrying his passport so couldn’t prove he had brought the car in legally, and they were trying to intimidate him, threatening with 48 hours in a cell. It seemed the guy was hinting for a bribe as he asked who was going to buy him dinner. Eventually after an anxious 15 minutes and no sign of a bribe, he let us go with a warning.

We headed to Sandton, Vicky’s home, a northern suburb come financial district. The gated estate she lives in meant passing through three gates to her home, an unspoken reminder of the cities unrest, but once through her home and two dogs were welcoming.

In the evening we ventured out for a dinner at a pizza restaurant, the average price of a meal being around 80 rand, around £4:50.

Day 328

In the morning we had a lovely Sunday brunch and then bid goodbye to uncle Dave. Vicky, Chris and I spent the afternoon walking the dogs in a park overlooking the city. When returning to the car in the car park you find a guard will see you out, he has been watching the car and will expect a tip for his service as he is not paid except through custom. In a culture where a basic wage equates to £5 a day, tipping is the lifeblood for local workers. What amazes me about Johannesburg is that it feels like a first world city and a third world city simultaneously. Whilst some live the high life in flash cars, other scenes remind you of the poverty which is rife. Whilst shopping malls and western conveniences are available to you, other frustrations remind you that this is Africa.

In the evening Vicky and Chris gave me an education on the history of this city, we watched bang bang club, a movie about a group of photographers who capture the scenes of the apartheid fighting in Soweto. An emotional and shocking film showed the fighting between ANC who were initiating stay aways and Incartha who were armed. Shocking scenes of necklacing and knife attacks prepared me for the day ahead.

Day 329

We set off early for Soweto, literally south western townships. Soweto is more like a sister city of Johannesburg rather than a suburb, filled with squatter villages and the workforce who supplied the city. Many of the houses haven’t changed in the 30 years, corrugated iron botch settlements on land which they don’t own. We drove past the public hospital where Vicky works which serves the tragedies of Soweto.

First stop, Vilakazi street, a street which was once home to both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The street with tourist influx has become a little more developed with restaurants and stalls. We were given a tour of Nelson Mandela’s house, a small but established brick house with a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom. Nelson lived here with a three of his wives and during the struggles was subject to petrol bombings, shootings and invasion several times. Once again we had to tip our car guards before heading around the corner to the Hector Peterson museum.

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The museum was a memorial to the tragedies of 16th June 1976, the student riot in which Hector Peterson and several other students lost their lives. It started out as a protest against the use of Afrikaans in schools as many children did not speak it and were suffering as a result. There were conflicting reports as to who through the first stone, but what followed was police firing on unarmed school kids. All out war ensued with children stoning cars, burning buildings and tanks patrolling Soweto shooting at innocent targets.

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We left Soweto via the Orlando tours, two decorated tours where we intended to stop for lunch, however as the restaurant was shut so we headed back for lunch. We ate on Nelson Mandela square, commemorating his life and work with a nice, but out of proportion statue of him. A few essentials shopping later and we returned to walk the dog. Even the park was gated and guarded.

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In the evening we watched Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom, an excellent representation about his life’s work and his role in ending apartheid. The film balances his peace loving nature with his ladies man tendencies, a tearjerker.

Day 330

Vicky dropped me back in Soweto at the apartheid museum. When entering the museum your ticket randomly labels you “white” or “non white” and the entrances are segregated. You could also under apartheid be classified coloured, meaning more rights than blacks, either due to being mixed race, or due to having more money or education. The policies of apartheid were truly shocking, establishing Soweto as a segregated area, requiring everyone to carry a passbook to move freely and enter the city. One shocking quote was “when I am in charge of education, they will realise they can never be equal to Europeans.” The policies were born out of fear that the European minority who arrived in gold rush Johannesburg would be overrun under the one man one vote system.

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The museum had a temporary exhibition on Nelson Mandela, an inspiring show of his family life and his development to lawyer, activist and rebel. In light of the fears of the ruling party, Nelson Mandela’s vision was incredible, not to seek revenge but to allow a South Africa for everyone to be represented.

The museum continued on to show Mandela’s release and incredibly, the years 1990-1994, his release to election, had 14,000 deaths, 4 times the amount of the previous fighting. Winnie and Nelson parted ways during this time, due to a difference in ideology, Winnie being a main driving force in the violent witch hunt for Incartha and informers. The negotiations and finally the election which made Mandela prime minister. An emotional journey which shows how far they have come however what is striking in modern day Johannesburg is how far things still have to go. The ANC, still in power remain the struggle party surrounded by nostalgia however are representing the people less and less. Of course the other thing which is difficult to swallow is just how recently this all occurred.

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Vicky and I continued on to meet my tour group in Benoni. Vicky joked it was far out of town and we might need passports, however I think we were both surprised at the lack of civilisation as we pulled up at a hostel, the only thing in the surrounding area being squatter camps. We found somewhere to have a last lunch together and then said our goodbyes.

Next I am joining a 32 day tour to Cape Town, via Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, first stop Kruger National Park…

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