Day 12: Johannesburg - Thu 04 Feb 2016


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Africa » South Africa » Gauteng » Johannesburg » Soweto
February 4th 2016
Published: February 22nd 2016
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Our last day on the tour we were allowed a lie-in as we didn’t start our touring until 8.30 am. We had our last Jeff breakfast and made up our lunch boxes, made sure that all of our stuff was loaded on the coach and left the hotel for a coach ride round Johannesburg.

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We drove through Sandton which is only about 30 - 33 years old and passed the largest mall in South Africa. Amos was rather cynical as to what kind of stores are in the mall - expensive ones. The buildings are high rise and the new buildings are getting higher and higher. Just like all modern cities (more's the shame). The Sandton area is clean and bustling.

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For the World Cup in 2010 the government started building an underground transit system. There are three lines but unfortunately very few stations. The main station goes to the airport and is the one which is most often used. This is because only tourists and business people can afford the very high fares.

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We drove past Amos’ retirement home. He told us that home ownership is easy. With the permission of the banks one only needs a 10% deposit and the bank will finance the rest. This reminded us of how easy it used to be in the UK to buy a house or apartment.

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The road we drove down was originally named after D F Malan who was the prime minister of South Africa from 1948 to 1954 and who was a member of the National Party which supported apartheid. The name was changed to Beyers Naude who was a cleric and leading anti-apartheid activist.

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We drove to West Park Cemetery. This cemetery is both a Jewish and non-Jewish cemetery and is where the Holocaust memorial is located. The grounds are absolutely pristine and beautifully laid out. The memorial was designed by Herman Tzvi Wald who was a soldier fighting in the army during World War II. He saw the aftermath of the Holocaust. One walks up some steps to the 6 shofarot (ram's horns) each representing one million persons killed. There is also a symbolic nir tamid (eternal flame). We spent some time walking around in contemplation of what we were seeing and those who perished.

As we drove out of the cemetery I saw why everything is so well kept - in a cage by the entrance was one of the largest German shepherd dogs I have ever seen. I wouldn’t want to cross him on a dark night.

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We continued on our drive around Johannesburg, past the botanical gardens, into the Emmarentia residential area, and past the Witwatersrand University. In this area there is a media centre and SABC radio. This means that this area is full of young people.

The coach made a loo stop at the theatre and people got off the coach to stretch their legs.

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We passed the monument to miners which represents a typical underground team of 1936. It was presented to the city in 1964.

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We drove past the Women’s Gaol as we went into Hillbrow. What a dump! Not so long ago this was a very up-market area. There was an active Jewish congregation and the synagogue is now a church. The only sign that it was formerly a synagogue is the magen david (star of David) above the domed roof. Opposite was the old Hebrew school which still has the Hebrew words “beit talmud torah” remaining. The area is now a no-go area and the coach driver was exceptionally brave driving us there, even during the daytime. How he managed to manoeuvre the coach in-between the drunks, druggies, and parked cars was really quite remarkable. On the streets people were selling their wares and some were just selling household goods to raise some money. The mess and the dirt was incredible. On the buildings paint was peeling and there was an air of “couldn’t care less” about the state of the place. However, on some of the buildings attention was finally being paid to their appearance and the outside of the tenement blocks were painted in bright colours.

This area is in north Johannesburg. We crossed into south Johannesburg which was the original gold area. There is still gold in the hills, but not enough for mining to be financially viable anymore. The oldest and richest mine was still extracting gold into the 1970s and now it is a gold museum.

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We drove into the Muslim area. During the gold rush, slaves were required and these were brought in from Malaya (now Malaysia). During the apartheid era the Muslims were known as “the coloureds”. Ironically the Chinese and Japanese were known as “whites” as they played an important trading role in South Africa. As mentioned previously gold was discovered in 1886 but it was not until 1902 that it started being mined. There were very few blacks in the area but when they heard that there was work they came to Johannesburg and went to Soweto. Many of the houses are brightly coloured.

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Then we went on to Soweto. Soweto is an acronym of South Western Township. One of the most obvious features seen upon approaching Soweto are a pair of painted smokestacks. These were from a very dirty power plant, and the citizens eventually got it shut down. They have been painted with ethnic figures and themes. A rope bridge connects the tops of the two smokestacks, and from that height there is a Bungee jump.

On the 11th June 1976 began the Soweto uprisings. The original demonstration was about Afrikaans being taught in schools. The government had ruled that Afrikaans was to be the official school language and all exams would be in Afrikaans. The black people demonstrated against that but due to the itchy fingers of the police it turned into a blood bath with the first schoolboy, Hector Pieterson, being killed. In the course of the ensuing riots 587 people were killed. We visited the Hector Pieterson Museum which explains the uprising and contains a monument to all those who died. The monument is made up of stones inscribed with the name of each one of those 587 laid into the concrete in the garden of the museum.

Soweto was nothing like I expected. Then again - what did I expect? There are about 2 million people living there. In 1932 Ernest Oppenheimer built houses for the miners. They are called “matchbox houses” and they remind me of the standard homes built on the old kibbutzim here in Israel. The original houses had no sewerage system, outside toilets, no showers. There are many parks and children’s playgrounds. Some parts of the township are very dirty with piles of litter. Other parts of the township are being gentrified. People are adding extensions to their houses. They have no planning permission so there is no uniformity to the building works. Some put an annex on the back, some add a floor, some put one room on the roof. New areas are being built. There is legally complete freedom of movement and these people could move to any part of South Africa they chose to, but they have a community in Soweto. There are schools, churches, shops and of course the Nelson Mandela Museum. This is the house in which Nelson Mandela lived and which in his messy divorce he gave to Winnie. She turned it into a museum.

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We then stopped at a mall for an hour to do some shopping. Don and I had a quick look around and then sat at our meeting point - the statue of the elephant at the entrance to the mall.

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From there we drove to First Road. Here was opulence and gaudiness at its most apparent. There were some very nice homes behind 60,000 volts but one of the estates was like a Roman villa occupying the space of about four homes. Outside were statues of Roman gods and goddesses. Then past the Wanderers Cricket Club where international matches are played, and onward to the Jewish areas of Melrose Arch and Waverley. There we saw the outside of the Great Park Synagogue which was built in the style of the original synagogue at Hillbrow. Chabad have a synagogue in that area and there are others. In Linksfield we saw the outside of the King David School. This area also has a kosher bed and breakfast place, Ohr Sameach synagogue and the Yeshivah College. At the local petrol station the Israeli flag flies alongside the South African flag.

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The most striking thing about the Johannesburg metropolitan area was that every few blocks it got nastier or nicer, with no obvious pattern. All the coach driving made it seem almost as if this day was just a day of what can we do seeing as how we have to waste time before we get to the airport.

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We stopped at a kosher dairy restaurant for lupper (lunch/supper) or linner (lunch/dinner) whichever you prefer. We managed to disrupt the other diners as we moved around all of the tables and chairs to accommodate all 21 of us at group tables. The nicest thing about this restaurant was the fact that they managed to get me gluten-free pasta. The meal was adequate and tasty and would keep us going until we boarded the flight.

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Then it was a coach ride to the airport and fond farewells to Amos. We checked in and headed to the bookshop, where I bought "Newman's Birds of Southern Africa" by Kenneth and Vanessa Newman. Then straight to the lounge for a cup of coffee and onto the plane for our overnight flight back home.

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What were our impressions of South Africa:

Well for sure it was not like we were expecting. We definitely didn’t like Johannesburg but liked Cape Town. We couldn’t envisage living with so much explicit security and no freedom to walk to friends on an evening.

All the staff in hotels, parks, museums, shops, etc were genuinely friendly and service oriented. That was true in Zimbabwe and Botswana as well as South Africa.

We loved the safaris but were terribly disappointed there were no lions. I expect that we will have to go again in order to see the lions. I became quite a “twitcher” on this safari and according to Newman’s book we saw 37 different varieties of birds. Would I be able to identify them again anytime soon? I doubt it but it was exciting.

On the whole the group was a good mix and we all seemed to get along well. Amos expounded a wealth of information and made good use of the connections he has amassed over 35 years in South Africa.

Our sincere thanks to Jeff and Miriam Green from AACI for putting up with this motley crew and for organising a very good tour.

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Tot: 2.166s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 10; qc: 32; dbt: 0.0232s; 2; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb