Sunday 9 Mar
Johannesburg, South Africa
Visit to Soweto
08 March Soweto Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
By far, the most impressive day we spent was today with our visit to the famous Soweto Township which was the center of action in South Africa's long struggle for freedom for all its people.
This time our tour guide arrived and on time! His name was Phineas. He was of the Zulu tribe. I told him my best friend's name was Phineas and that I would tell my friend I had found his twin in South Africa! This prompted the revelation that Phineas, the Zulu, was a twin. His twin brother's name is Philip.
Phineas demonstrated the handshake we would give when we entered Soweto, the multiple shake kids often do in the U.S.--shake, thumb, fingers embrace but with an added thumb rub. He explained we would be going into the township including squatters quarters and visiting in homes.
Along with John, and myself, we also had two couples from Hungary on our tour. One of the husbands translated Phineas' comments for the others.
On the way Phineas told us of the history of Johannesburg. It was open farming, range land until gold was discovered in 1886 by an Australian who was working on a farm near what is now downtown Johannesburg. Then it all changed. People came from all over to prospect. Mines were dug and the need for labor became insatiable. Many young males of the tribes were forced into labor in the mines. Johannesburg became a boom town!
The blacks were located in tents and shantys near the mines. Later a township was formed on the southwest side of downtown, hence the name Soweto--Southwest Township abbreviated.
Conditions worsened with overcrowding and more and more mining. Johannesburg became rich, but not the laboreres.
On the way to Soweto, we went to the section of Johannesburg where the mine owners came to live, an area called Houton. Blacks were forbidden on the streets there. Today, however, it is where the elderly Nelson Mandela now has an office and his residence. He will be 90 in July. We drove by his office and his house and took pictures. We were not allowed to stop for security reasons. Phineas wanted us to see this section and then compare it with Soweto.
We drove on out to Soweto past large mounds of gold mine detrius piled high and dusty in the dry windy seasons. There is still gold in them which now can be refined by newer technologies. The dirt and rock are yellow in color.
At the entrance to Soweto, we stopped to take pictures of the sign. Phineas demonstrated a Zulu dance for us, with high kicking steps. He's quite energetic.
We entered the Soweto Expensive section. Surprisingly, even when residents become quite wealthy, they choose never to leave the township. We saw houses of billionaire entrepreneurs--one an owner of a sports team, one who owned taxis, and one who had a BMW/Mercedes repair business. One of them also owned a large shopping mall. Yet, they remain in Soweto.
We drove on to the killing fields in the center of the township where first there were rivalries of tribal groups killing each other across a vacant field, and then troops killing citizens in the conflict over apartheid in the 70's-90's.
We visited squatters shacks which have no electricity and water is secured at a distance. We went into one home there. I talked with some school children--this being a Saturday. Again, as we had found in Cape Town, shacks were pieced together with whatever could be found.
A program for providing housing is underway. We saw some new construction. We also went by a section of houses provided through the Carter Foundation--Jimmy Carter's intiative to provide adequate housing which I support regulary. It was good to see the actual results. He is well regarded by Africans.
We then drove by one of the largest hospitals in the world. It is the Chris Hani Barabgwanath Hospital in Soweto. It stretches nearly a mile in length. It has delivered more babies than perhaps any single hospital anywhere. It is also noted for its surgeries separating Siamese twins. In addition, it is one of the safest hospitals anywhere because it has no air conditioning, which is the conveyor of germs in most U.S. hospitals--perhaps we should take note. Doctors from all over the world come to serve their residency there--including doctors from the U.S.
Our last stop was in the Beverly Hills section of Soweto. We went by the house of Winnie Mandella, activist former wife of Nelson Mandela. Nearby was the house of Bishop Desmond Tutu, the activist Anglican Bishop who was instrumental in informing world opinion about what was happening in South Africa. Near it is the actual home of Nelson Mandela. On this small street lived two Nobel Peace Prize recipients--making it one of the most famous streets in the world. But its actual fame comes from some school children.
In June 1976 the children of the school there took to the streets to protest the required learning only in the Afrikaner language. The march grew. Police were called out and opened fire on the children, killing nearly 70 of them. A picture of a 15 year-old boy carrying his dead 13-year old friend accompanied by the dead boys sister splashed around the world. Their act turned the tide in activating South African blacks to resist apartheid. Many more would die, but they would never again passively accept it. Today a museum stands and is named for Pieter the dead boy of the photo. His sister is now the director.
We had not planned to visit the Apartheid Museum, but we had to. It, like the Holocaust Museum are places every human should visit sometime. It was transforming to see all that transpired in the people overcoming their oppression. It was much to absorb, but reminds us of the need never to accept oppression of any kind. A chalk board is included where people can write comments. One had written Don't Call Me Black, Call me A Child of God. Somehow that summed up all of us...we are not a color but all children of the same God who created us.
I went back to pack for my midnight departure for Kenya.