Monday, 29 January 2018

Gate 1, South Africa - Day 9, Johannesburg

This was the last day of the organized tour and Renier bemoaned the fact that it ended on a "downer", as he called it. He was referring primarily to the Apartheid Museum, which he said he couldn't visit because it was so upsetting and he said the country needed to move on from that.
We boarded the bus again, this time with a local guide. He had been born and raised in Soweto and so was qualified to give us our tour of the area.
First the bus drove through a very wealthy area, where, our guide said

the rich had created their own prisons; high solid walls, security guards, barbed wire and electric fence and security cameras.
We saw the house where Nelson Mandela had lived while he was President, until his death. On the boulevard people had left coloured stones in remembrance.

Continuing on the drive we could see huge slag heaps left over from the extensive mining. This material, left over when the gold was extracted, is gradually being moved back into the empty mine shafts in the hope of stabilizing the ground.

Soweto is where we would spend the rest of our day. The  South West Township, was created when the wealthy decided they did not want the mine workers living close by and had them all moved to their own community, a distance away.

It is the largest of the Townships and home to millions of people

some in the informal, squatter areas
and some in the formal, government housing areas. There are also areas were people have built more substantial homes.
We stopped at the house where Nelson Mandela and his family had lived during "the struggles" (the time spent fighting apartheid).
It was small and sparsely furnished and filled with memorabilia from their time there.
The guide spoke about their living conditions and the constant harassment from government forces (including drive by shootings and bombings)
Next stop was the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum, named after the first student (he was 12!) to be killed during the Soweto uprising of 1976.
It is located at the sight of the first clash between the high school students and the government forces. The students were protesting that their classes in high school were in Africaans, a new language to most of them, making learning in high school even more difficult. They wanted to be taught in English, a language that would prepare them for employment anywhere. The government forces violently opposed the peaceful demonstration and the protest spread resulting in more deaths, arrests and finally, the attention of the United Nations. This put international pressure on the government to revise its apartheid approach. The museum was quite disturbing, I cried, the videos of the clashes and first hand accounts of the students were graphic.
Somehow the Apartheid Museum didn't affect me as much even though it was extremely well done. Very interactive, multi media approaches and lots of photos and first hand accounts. I was able to get through it all in the 2 hours allotted though I could certainly have used more time. There was an area depicting Mandela's life and another that examined the rise, maintenance and fall of Apartheid.
It was Sunday and, driving away, we saw many gathered at outdoor church services. All dressed in white and the church marked by a ring of white stones that can be moved further out to allow for an expanding congregation.
To cheer us up, Renier had us dropped at a flea market at a mall parking lot. Retail therapy.
There was an arts and crafts section where I did finally succumb to a wooden bowl souvenir. This man was making small punch needle pieces and he was surprised that I knew what it was and let me try his technique of punching with it held stretched tightly over a cup.

The market had an extensive food area, clothing, housewares and string art furniture (?)
We ended the day at a farewell dinner at a restaurant close to the hotel. The next day people were catching planes at all different times so it was our last chance to chat, exchange e-mails etc.

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