Published: December 17th 2007December 13th 2007
A week ago we left Kilifi, spending our last morning there at Upendo. Some of the kids were clingy, some showed more fascination than normal with my watch as we counted down the minutes we had left there, and some were oblivious to our impending departure, and we raced around and sang songs like any other day. In the end, we left hurriedly as a traffic jam on the Mombasa Road meant our trip to the airport would be a slow one. Mama Rachel and most of the kids escorted us part of the way home to sneak in a last few minutes together, and so we said our goodbyes on a dirt road in the backstreets of Kilifi. I struggled to contain tears at the kids’ farewell gestures of a kiss to the back of the hand, and was glad when they finally gave my sunnies back. After a long and hot trip to Mombasa, we arrived sweat-soaked at the airport preparing for delayed flights, but actually had a very un-Kenyan end to our time there - both flights were on time and, by midnight, we were in Johannesburg.
Despite being exhausted, we were excited with anticipation of the
Lion King obsession continuing...
... Selina and Nelly write 'hakuna matata' on the back of a dirty van.
relative luxuries in store for us compared to what we’d experienced over the last eight months, of new travel experiences, for Brigid of finally getting to see a country she’s been fascinated with for many years and, of course, of seeing Conor, who was flying in from Australia the next day to join us. We delighted in the comfortable bed (sans mosquito net) and snuggling under a doona, and of having a warm bath. In the morning, we moved backpackers - being driven by a guy from the airport one to another in the city that we had booked. We dumped our stuff there and headed out for the day to Rosebank, where we had a lovely day visiting the markets, seeking out places to have smoothies and salads (for which we only had to wait 5 minutes!), looking in the shops and watching the middle class of Johannesburg go about their days. We got a taxi back to the hostel in plenty of time for our airport transfer to collect Conor but, after a number of wrong turns by a driver who didn’t know the way, we arrived at the address I had for the backpackers I’d booked only
to find that it wasn’t the one we were taken to that morning. With our descriptions and some help from the hostel staff, we managed to work out which hostel our bags were likely to be at (apparently a drug haven that it is advisable to steer clear of!), and were driven first to retrieve them before finally setting out to the airport, thankfully arriving only ten minutes after Conor passed through customs. Later, we spent a lazy but relieved evening back at our hostel, chatting late into the night about events of the months spent apart.
Exploring Johannesburg and surrounds over the next couple of days was somewhat different to most of my previous travels as, due to its reputation as a mecca of violent crime, Johannesburg is not considered safe to walk around. So, instead of getting a feel for the place by wandering round the streets we travelled around in cars and taxis to specific places of interest, catching only glimpses of the different suburbs as we sped through them. We’d expected that South Africa would be a relative half-way point in the standards of living between Kenya and returning to Australia, but I think it
is perhaps more correct to say that it is a city of huge contrasts, with areas of enormous poverty and grime but lots of colour, and the more muted shades of areas of obvious wealth. Overall, though, Johannesburg was surprisingly pretty with its green, rolling hills and, its altitude of about 1800m makes for a very comfortable climate at this time of year.
We visited the Apartheid Museum, an excellent collection showing what led to the introduction of the divisive regime in 1948 and what life was like in South Africa during the time the proponents of this regime were in power. It shows in detail the inhumanity of such things as the Pass Laws, which lead to the Sharpeville Massacre, the methods used to instill fear in people including Casspirs (large tank-like trucks used by police to roam the streets and shoot at people), and then in an excellent video, the resistance to the regime (the footage of a public demonstration with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets singing and dancing as one is particularly moving). There was also a temporary exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the death of Steve Biko, one of the leaders
of the Black Consciousness movement, in police custody age 30 (for an excellent - and very easy to read - introduction into Biko’s ideas and what he was up against in the regime of the time, try Cry Freedom by John Briley).
A day-trip to Soweto provided the highlight of these few day here though - we were driven through the township by Joe Motsogi, an ex-ANC activist turned apolitical tour guide. Soweto, short for South-Western Townships, is somewhat of an icon to the anti-apartheid struggle that continued until the early 1990s as many leaders of the fight lived here, and many events of national significance occurred here. One major event in the increasingly inhumane rulings of the apartheid museum was that blacks were to be relocated out of their existing homes in places such as Sophiatown to black-only communities, of which Soweto was one of the biggest. Nowadays, it remains essentially a black-only area, with only about 60 white people living there. It is a large and bustling area, full of stores, schools and churches, and takes about 40 minutes to drive from one end to the other. The division between rich and poor is again very evident
here, as Soweto contains a number of ‘informal settlements’ (basically metal shacks) that house the city’s poorest. As a resident of Soweto his whole life and now as a community leader, Joe feels that the standard of living and access to basic human rights such as health care and education have improved since the abolition of apartheid but, even from the surface, it is obvious that there is still some way to go - it is certainly premature to expect that the damage inflicted by over 40 years of brutal repression (on the back of previous segregation laws) could be recovered from in such a short time. Our first stop was the site where the 1955 ANC Freedom Charter was established. This was a landmark document produced by ANC leaders including Nelson Mandela that called for basic human rights for all and resulted in the arrests and trials for treason of many of those involved. Now, the ten main demands of this charter are written in stone, a sobering reminder of how much was denied people. We got out of the car again at Regina Mundi (queen of the world in latin) Church, one of the few churches people were
allowed to congregate at and therefore a place that became both the spiritual and political home of Soweto. We drove along Vilakazi Street, apparently the only street in the world that can claim two Nobel prize winners as former residents, passing Desmond Tutu’s place and stopping at the former house of Nelson and Winnie Mandela. It is a small house, without electricity and, until 1989 also without running water. Nelson Mandela only lived in the house for a short period due to his long prison sentence and, due to lack of privacy, stayed only eleven days after being released from prison before moving elsewhere. Some of the rooms, including the main bedroom have been kept as they were, but others are now covered in awards (including many honorary degree certificates), memorabilia and gifts of admiration from countries around the world. Our final stop was at the Hector Pieterson Memorial Centre, which commemorates the tragic deaths of many young people in the 1976 student uprisings in Soweto when crowds of unarmed secondary school students, marching peacefully through the streets in protest of laws stating that Afrikaans would be the language of instruction at schools, were fired upon by police. A large
photo outside the exhibition shows the lifeless body of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried in the arms of an older boy who is running to take him to help, Hector’s sister at his side, struggling to keep up, the looks of anguish captured on their faces in heart-wrenching detail. From the luxury of a peaceful and comfortable upbringing, every time I visit a place that commemorates a horrible event in a country’s past, I wonder what could possibly lead people to act in the terrible ways that they do. This event though, the callous gunning down of people as young as eight years old at a peaceful demonstration, I find particularly incomprehensible. Our tour ended on a more pleasant note, with lunch at Wandie’s shebeen. Shebeens (pubs) were illegal during apartheid, but continued to operate as a place for people to gather, eat, drink and dance. This one used to be frequented by Nelson Mandela, so I’m sure it’s seen its share of intrigue over the years…
We’ll be back in Johannesburg for two more nights at the end of our trip, but for now we’re off to Cape Town and surrounds. More soon, love K x
the title of this blog refers to a placard we saw being held up by a guy who was asking for money at a set of traffic lights. I’m not sure if he meant dog as in animal-dog or homie-dog…
There are more photos below