The unplugged Soweto experience – foundation of South African freedom
Vacationing in a new country is always food for the soul especially when one gets to learn about the rich and diverse African culture including all the momentous stories pre and post colonization. Therefore, when we received an invitation from our good friends at South African Tourism (SAT) to attend this year’s DStv Delicious International Food and Music Festival, I jumped up and down with joy knowing fully that the trip to Gauteng will be rejuvenating.
Travelling around Africa is always easy as the languages are entwined (Bantu peoples). And even when one can’t speak the native language, they are at times able to hear and vice versa. Philosopher, Ibn Battuta once said, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller,” and as such I have become a travel enthusiast and storyteller of note. This has become somewhat of a remedy to the whizzing deadlines we chase daily.
Last week’s travel expedition to the 5th DStv Delicious International Food and Music Festival gave me an opportunity to explore tucked away South African scenic and beautiful tourist attractions that I had never explored before.
Our country, Botswana, despite it being a landlocked country has played an instrumental role in the liberations of its neighbours like South Africa thus it’s important for us to visit and appreciate the importance of our existence both as a people and country. Our working vacation, from Friday last week until Tuesday this week courtesy of SAT was truly refreshing.
Among the many activities in our itinerary was the guided and educational tour to the country’s most celebrated township – SOWETO – English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships, a township of the city of Johannesburg, bordering the city’s mining belt in the south.
The rich history in this place will leave you stunned! One cannot speak of South Africa’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and exclude how the people of Soweto played a pivotal role in the liberal day South Africa.
Iconic figures and Noble Prize winners; Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived at Vilakazi Street – the most famous street in the huge Soweto township and I was quite happy to quadbike myself into this revered township with eleven other crew members from our entourage.
These included Botswana songstress, Samantha Mogwe, 19 minutes media crew of Marang Molosiwa (presenter), Bone Choene (cinematographer), Mpho Odueng (producer), Mohumagadi Moruti (events assistant), social media pro, Michael Hall, three First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) staff, Tshepiso Scheffers, Naco Bolote and Oagomotsa Gabaikangwe as well as the FNBB Rewards campaign winners, Tumisang Mokalake and Kgosi Sethoko.
Although this was not the first time for me to ride a quadbike, having done the most difficult terrains such as Khawa Dune Challenge in the past, my belief was that the trip around Soweto would be a lot smoother thus allowing one to take scenic pictures. However, this was never to be for others within the quadbike tour. My lips are sealed and I will not disclose any names lest I spoil and defame their extraordinaire Soweto experience.
Following the chivalrous custom, “Ladies first”, we all lined up before we rode through the amazing township of Soweto, our journey having started at the Orlando Power Station’s Cooling Towers, where activities such as bungee and BASE jumping can be found. Kudos to Soweto Outdoor Adventures for hosting us superbly and taking us through the excited beaming faces of Soweto residents.
This epic journey through Soweto also allowed us to demystify the popular allegory that eKasi is dangerous – for me it was the opposite of truth. I found Soweto to be extremely warm, welcoming and struck me as a very good place to hang out. Manoeuvring through the busy highways on a quadbike was never really going to be stressful.
Our marshals made sure they controlled the stream of traffic thus making sure we pass without any police escort. Quite peaceful were the cops, that even when we passed the two police vehicles along our bike tour, they never requested any information and just let us be. This is how I then realized motorists in South Africa respect and know the importance of tourism and tourists.
There was never really any apprehension emanating from the stopped traffic about us wasting their time. Even at the traffic lights, motorists waited for us to pass first. I was also moved when the natives dropped everything they were doing and waived intensely at us, possibly the roaring sound of our quadbikes having startled them from their daily chores. This for me was a warm and heartening welcome into Soweto Township.
Our first stop was at the iconic Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. Situated in Orlando West, Soweto, this riveting museum commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid and in particular the role played by the school children who took part in the Soweto protests of 1976, many of whom were shot by the apartheid police while protesting against the sub-standard of education in Black schools in South Africa.
“On 16 June 1976, school children like Hector Pieterson protested the implementation of Afrikaans and English as dual medium of instruction in secondary schools in a 50:50 basis. This was implemented throughout South Africa regardless of the locally-spoken language and some exams were also written in Afrikaans. Students gathered to peacefully demonstrate, but the crowd soon became very aggressive when the police arrived, they then started to throw stones. A crowd of approximately 13,000 started rioting, killing two West Rand Administrative Board members, and burning a number of vehicles and buildings associated with the police and the Transvaal Education Department.”
The above narration made the events leading to the shooting feel as if it was just yesterday. The museum guide kept pointing only a stone’s throw from where we were indicating a spot where Hector was killed. The government of RSA has since then erected broken walls decked with a fountain to symbolize the bloodshed and broken hearts of the parents of those then children.
From the Hector Pieterson museum, we travelled to Nelson Mandela’s 8115 house on Vilakazi Street. I will describe Vilakazi Street as the street with an invigorating entrepreneurship acumen. Every single vendor in Soweto lines up this street selling different products. It’s a historic street. It is the only street with two Noble prize recipients- Mandela and Tutu. The house in Soweto has everything that could possibly put one nearer to the forlorn days of Madiba.
I was taken aback that even the letters that Madiba wrote whilst incarcerated at Robben Island are still found in this house. Apparently, Mandela was only allowed 1, 000 words per year and two letters to write to his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. This is where all roads lead to in Soweto especially tourists.
Mandela lived in the house for a period of 15 years and later feared for his life and that of his family after the house was burnt by the then White regime. Today, the house has full time staff under the government payroll to share vividly Madiba’s iconic life and “Long Walk to Freedom”.
This experience will cost one a mere R60 to enter the house, where upon entering one is greeted by Madiba’s souvenirs, trophies, recorded interviews and books. The growling and raging pangs of hunger grew tenser by the minute, and as such we headed out to Chaf Kopi for a sumptuous ‘Shisanyama’ lunch before it started rained.
Set at the base of the iconic Orlando Towers in Soweto, Chaf Pozi is a local institution where you will experience food and a vibe that’s authentic to South Africa. It was opened to create an open Shiza Nyama restaurant where people could come and eat good local food, have a cold beer and listen to township music. Until the next travel, peace @unpluggedbw followers!