Published: November 1st 2010October 29th 2010
Sanibonani from Soweto.
Despite some initial confusion with our booking, we eventually arrived at the colourful township of Soweto. We stayed at Lebo's Soweto Backpackers, run by a young guy called Lebo and his Swedish wife. His parents were part of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Fleeing to Botswana he was then raised by his grandmother until he could be safely smuggled back to his parents in Botswana under a false name. His grandfather was a founding member of the PAC party and he grew up hearing stories about the struggle. Frustrated at seing white tour guides take white tourists around in buses explaining how dangerous the township is, Lebo set out to change this preconception - after all Soweto is the homeland of the black people, its history and influence on politics today can only be explained by people that live here. This is Soweto's first black backpackers, it runs a number of important projects in the community and is famous for its township cycle tours. It is a fabulous place to stay and worth a visit. We were actually staying with Lebo's gorgeous toothless grandmother because the backpackers was full. It was right in the heart of Orlando. The
city was teeming with people. The Pirates, the local soccer team, were playing at Orlando Stadium, just down the road from where we were staying and the hum from the vuvuzelas was deafening. After the Pirates' won, the vuvuzelas went even louder as people poured out into the streets and car beeped their horns.
Lebo picked us up from his grandmother's house in a brand new yellow tuk tuk, the only one of its kind in Soweto. It was hard to know if people were staring at the tuk tuk or us. After breakfast we headed out for a cycle tour of Soweto with our guide Solomon. It was a fantastic 4 or 5 hours. People were really friendly, the children would come running and shouting. Everyone made us feel welcome and invited us to have a closer look at their lives. Despite some obvious and serious social problems, there is a real sense of community and while there are some very poor areas, many of the areas look like an average suburb in any major city. Despite all the hype, Soweto has a much nicer feel than Johannesburg, people are friendlier and it feels much safer. It was
also here that thousands of youth staged an uprising against the apartheid regime in 1976 where the security forces opened fire on the unarmed protesters sparking international condemnation. This event epitomised the evil of the apartheid regime and led to months of national protests which left anywhere between 700-1200 people dead, thousands wounded and resulted in many thousands of people fleeing South Africa.
We experienced home brewed beer called umqombothi, made of maize and sorghum at a local shebeen served in a calabash. It is relatively weak and surprisingly drinkable. We were able to see where Nelson Mandela lived with his ex-wife Winnie. Down the road lived the Reverend Desmond Tutu. We headed to a local restaurant for lunch, kota was on the menu, an open sandwich with chips, egg, chilli sauce and meat on top - quite tasty and very filling. We visited the home of the jazz legends the Elite Swingsters before heading back to the backpackers sunburnt and strangely exhausted.
On our final day we walked to the Hector Pieterson musuem. Hector was a 13 boy that was shot in the 16 June 1976 uprising as he walked home with his sister. He became the
national symbol for resistance against apartheid. The infamous photograph shows a fellow student carrying the shot Hector with his sister running next to him. The museum was fantastic, it provided a real insight not only as to what happened which led to the uprising but also how it affected the struggle nationwide.
Soweto is not what you think, it is a fantastic, friendly and historically interesting place to visit.
It is now time to head to the airport. We are so sad to be leaving and cannot believe that it is actually over. We have simply had the time of our lives and wish we could stay longer.
19 countries, 343 days, overland more than 40,000km.
There are more photos below