The Hendersons Back to Johannesburg for two days
An Unforgettable African Adventure
Friday, March 23 - Back to Johannesburg
We packed up and said our goodbyes and were on our way by 9 am - we knew we had a long drive, retracing our route of just six days ago. We had gotten packed lunches from the Heritage so we didn't have to worry about finding a place to eat.
All went well, although we discovered when we arrived in Jo'burg that we didn't have great maps. We had several wrong turns but eventually found our way to our lodging, the Peech Hotel in the Melrose area. As it happened, there was a cricket match at a pitch close by - the traffic was terrible in the area, and while we were having dinner we often heard the roar of the crowd. I didn't think that cricket was that exciting!
The Peech is wonderful - only twelve guest rooms - the decor is spare and modern, but the rooms are really comfortable and the service very attentive. The food in the Bistro was excellent. They had a wonderful sauvignon blanc from a Franschhoek vintner, Leopard's Leap (or maybe it was Stellenbosch, I don't remember!). Tom and I shared a chicken satay starter (they were wonderful) and we both had lamb - it was very good, but we were seated outside and it was rather dark, so we had a hard time trimming our meat. There were lots of fresh vegetables and some nice 'smashed potatoes' - not really mashed, but actually smashed.
Margaret and Jay were to be heading back home late Saturday, but they didn't want to do anything other than relax, so we parted company - the end of the first phase of our adventure.
Saturday, March 24 - Johannesburg
We made arrangements for a private tour of Soweto (South Western Township) where the anti-apartheid movement began in the 1970s. We were reluctant to go there on our own (and we didn't have a car). Rolly, our guide, met us at 9 am and drove us to Soweto. We learned that there are several townships near Jo'burg - a township is more like a legal settlement, while a settlement, which are the very poor areas, are illegal, squatters' settlements (these are where there are the terrible houses constructed of sheet metal and cardboard). Soweto is huge - 4.5 million people. We had no idea. It is the largest of several townships near Jo'burg - there are others for natives and others for Coloreds.
Soweto itself is very colorful and lively - the residents have set up little shops here and there - tuck shops, for example, are like little mini-marts. Enterprising hair dressers have put up awnings and a chair and opened business. The muffler repair man has a welding torch and spare parts and operates on the corner. Taxis patrol the streets, honking - there is some sort of code that tells the riders where he is going - everyone shares the taxis that are going in the right direction.
The houses are small and overcrowded - six families may live in one house that has been divided - some are very tidy, with small gardens, others are quite a mess. Fences, constructed of concrete blocks are painted like billboards - advertisements for a hardware store or a hairdresser, but all too many advertisements for funeral homes - AIDS is such an overwhelming problem here. Single males live in hostels like the one pictured below.
Rolly took us past Winnie Mandela's home (ex-wife of Nelson Mandela). Nice digs - surrounded by a brick wall. Then to the home the Mandelas shared before his arrest. It was very small - only three rooms and a kitchen. It was filled with memorabilia. He is so respected. Winnie showed up to visit the restaurant across the street while we were there (I believe some of her relatives own it). Jane, our guide for the Mandela house, was quite respectful of her. My impression has been that she is little more than a Mafia leader.
Jane was interesting to me - she went through her guided tour speeches rather mechanically - she probably gives the speech 50 times a day, but when you asked her questions about the museum, Mandela or South Africa, she became animated and turned out to have a wonderful ear for accents - she could imitate a Southern US accent very accurately. I would have liked to spend more time with her and learn more about her life. She's young - I would guess in her late 20s and really wants to travel, but like so many black South Africans, she doesn't have much money (but probably a lot more than the unemployed people in the settlements).
There is a large memorial and museum in Soweto - to Hector Pieterson, who was killed during the first Soweto demonstrations. From walking around the museum, we couldn't get over the feeling that the kids who were demonstrating against the ruling that they would be taught in Afrikaans were set up - that there were other agendas behind the demonstrations. Tragically, several youngsters died and the demonstration turned very ugly, with several police and officials injured or killed. This may have been the only way to waken the world to the injustices of apartheid, but these youngsters paid a heavy price.
Rolly took us to Regina Mundi, the Catholic church nearby - the guide pointed out the bullet holes in the church interior. How can anyone fire into a church? Apparently several of the demonstrators took refuge in the church, but a church is supposed to be an inviolate sanctuary. One of the soldiers who entered the church smashed off a corner of the altar with his rifle butt.
We had lunch in a Soweto restaurant, Wandie's. It was fairly typical South African cooking - lots of meat! We are really missing fresh fruits and vegetables, although we get them at the Peech.
When we returned, Margaret and Jay had gone. Tom and I worked on photos and the journal, had a nice meal (fresh salmon) at the Peech and were off to bed - tomorrow we head to Livingstone, Zambia and the world famous Victoria Falls.