The short version: went to Soweto, got lost few times, lived to tell the tale.
The longer version:
Yesterday morning (Sunday) we went to a market near where we’re staying in Maboneng – lots of great food including stalls set up by the cafes and restaurants around here, probably a good way for them to showcase what they sell and attract customers to their real places of business. Design and fashion stalls on the first floor, but we didn’t get up there, we were so busy looking at all the food. We had morning tea – Persian minted lemonade and 2 flavours of homemade marshmallow between chocolate biscuits for me, a jam & cheese roosterkoek (bread roll) for Greg.
And then we had other things to do while we still had the car, which we returned to the airport this morning. The hardest things to get to without a car are Soweto and the Apartheid Museum. Although after it has just taken us 2 hours to travel the 17kms from the airport back to the apartment by train, I think everything in Johannesburg is hard to get to without a car.
We tried to visit the Apartheid Museum. Twice.
This country suffers from insufficient power, and a lot of Jozi was affected by ‘load-shedding’ yesterday for 5 or 6 hours. The lifts in the building we’re staying in weren’t working, neither was a lot of the emergency lighting in the stair wells and the emergency exit signs just stopped at the ground floor without pointing us to an exit. I’m glad we weren’t trying to find our way out in a real emergency. We have learnt to take torches when we go out anywhere now, and we’ve checked out fire exits, just in case.
Throughout Jo’burg there were no traffic lights, some places had their own generators, the rest were in darkness. I’ve gotta say though, motorists here are much better at coping without working traffic lights than Australian drivers. They treat each intersection with blacked-out lights as a 4-way stop sign, and everyone takes their turn. Very sensible.
The Apartheid Museum is next door to a casino and they share an entrance, but the boom gate wasn’t working and the security guy warned us that the museum was closed.
So we went to have a look around Soweto instead. People and minibuses everywhere, we got lost a few times and ended up in suburban back streets, but it didn’t feel unsafe – people were just getting on with their Sundays, mowing the lawn, kids playing, the usual stuff. We drove past the Regina Mundi church, the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided over several meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the end of Apartheid in the second half of the 1990sMore recently Michelle Obama visited the church on the South Africa leg of her tour of the continent and she addressed the Young African Women Leaders Forum there.
We drove through several of the townships that make up Soweto (South Western Townships) and tried to find Vilakazi street, where both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived – probably one of the very few streets in the world where 2 Nobel Prize winners have lived. We didn’t find it, possibly because we were distracted by the tour bus full of white people who were standing on the corner and we didn’t see the street’s name. We drove around a bit more, passing a large group of people dressed in white and singing something religious. Beautiful harmonies. Then past 2 beautifully painted cooling towers from a decommissioned power station, a large new shopping centre, the Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital (reputedly the 3rd largest hospital in the world) with Africa’s largest taxi rank opposite. Approximately one third of Joburg’s population of nearly 4 million people live in Soweto, and over 98.5% are black.
On our way back to Maboneng, we tried the Apartheid Museum again, but the power was still out. So we took the car to a ‘secure parking lot’ near the apartment and went back to the Arts Market for lunch. Greg went back to the roosterkoek lady for a pork rib one, the only kind left by 2.30pm. I had an Ethiopian platter that cost all of about $9 and would have fed 2 people easily. The platter was lined with injera (Ethiopian flat bread), then had spoonfuls of different curries and sides on top of it, including a chicken drumstick, lamb, beef, pumpkin, spinach, potatos, lentils, cabbage, beetroot and probably a couple more that I’ve forgotten. To eat, you break off pieces of the injera and use it to scoop up small portions of the food. I’m sure the Ethiopians are much better at it than me, but it was all delicious and fun to eat. We were interested to note that the first time we visited the market, most of the patrons were whities, and then when we went back later in the day, it was mostly blacks.
The Johannesburg Culinary and Pastry School were selling a range of delicious pastries and cakes, and I bought a lime cheesecake and a chocolate-drizzled churro which ended up being dinner for me and himself respectively.
I’ll write about today’s experience travelling by train later. That’s a whole post by itself!
Driving through Soweto. Sellers at every intersection selling ice blocks, papers, beads, sunglasses and more: