We enjoyed a later start to the morning today with an 8.30am pick-up time for our day tour covering the Soweto township, the Apartheid Museum and Johannesburg/Joburg. The mini-van was full with many newcomers to our travel group joining us. We had a long drive from our campsite in towards Joburg. We saw where they were mining for gold, which when it was discovered in 1886 Joburg suddenly became a very popular place, especially with the British. We stopped in front of the 2010 World Cup Stadium, where the Spanish team defeated the Dutch in the final. The African Cup of Nations final is being played there tonight (10th
Feb) between Nigeria and Burkino Faso. We will be watching this with our Kenyan bus driver Josh who loves his football.
Our next stop was the Soweto township, where the famous 1976 uprisings occurred. Young African school kids were protesting on the way they were being made to sit their school exams in Afrikaans, which was not their first language. When this was introduced only 30% passed their exams. This was just one example of apartheid rule in South Africa during this time. During the protests a 13 year old boy, Hector Pieterson, was shot dead by the police in a peaceful student demonstration and there is a famous picture of another young boy carrying him running down the road with Hector’s sister alongside. We were fortunate enough to meet his sister who works at the Hector Pieterson Museum. We drove to the street where this shooting happened in the Soweto township. We drove down the street where Nelson Mandela lived for part of his early adult life, when he was married to Winnie Mandela. This street was also the home to Desmond Tutu, making it the only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace Prize winners. We were unfortunately not able to spend a lot of time on this street (Vilagase) as we were on a strict schedule, but this particular area had a strong cultural feel to it. The township had a population of about 4.5 million people, made up of 61 suburbs, 19 hostels and one upper class area. We were taken on a very short walk in a shanty town, where we saw how more than 40% of the black South African people live (on less than a £1 per day). They had no mains power electricity, and they had communal running water. Their houses were very basic and small, made out of corrugated iron and often only one bedroom. We were constantly being asked for tips from people. Our driver was also spotted by one of our group taking a sneaky commission from owners of small souvenir stalls that were selling us stuff. We were all, I think a little bit disappointed after this part of the tour as we had expected to see and learn more about the shanty town from our guides and see first hand their day to day life.
The Apartheid Museum was our next stop and this was the highlight of the day for us. We could easily have spent double the time we had there, but we thoroughly enjoyed learning about Nelson Mandela and the apartheid (‘separateness’) period. Apartheid was officially brought in by the government in the 1960’s, and ended in 1991 after Mandela, from his jail cell, had negotiated for it’s abolition, as well as other conditions, including the right for black people to vote and to reinstate black political parties, such as his ANC party. This led to the first ever democratic South African election in 1994, where blacks voted for the first time and Mandela was elected as their first ever black President. Throughout his term as South African President he was both nationally and globally admired for his strong leadership and ability to confront racism by working with and uniting black and white people. A good example of this was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela created after apartheid was abolished, where, instead of rubbing salt into the wounds of white people for their actions, black people were encouraged to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. Mandela’s strong legacy that he has created throughout his long political career continues to resonate throughout the country and the world today. He is now 93 years old, and many people worry about the effect his passing may have on South Africa moving forward.
We then 'headed back to our campsite after the museum and were unable to see the city of Joburg itself as we ran out of time. It had been an interesting day, but we were happy to say goodbye to Joburg and head for our second National Park, Kruger, to do some more game spotting. We overnighted in Hazyview about 15mins drive from Kruger NP at a bush campsite, which was an amazing place. You could see that the place was the owner’s pride and joy. There were outdoor showers, making you feel like you were showering in the wild. There was also a huge flying fox over a big dam on the campsite that Alex spent the afternoon flying off. I was content with reading my book on the water’s edge not feeling like embarrassing myself in front of the newcomers on the trip just yet. We also had the luxury of being cooked a local traditional meal, where we were served maize, pap and a range of delicious vegies. The food was amazing and we picked up the local traditional way of eating with our hands. We were all relaxing and enjoying a great night, when suddenly a massive thunderstorm struck the camp. There was torrential rain, thunder and lightning, and we were all ducking for cover. Thinking we would finish our meals under cover and watch the wild storm pass by, we were mistaken, as the wooden beams supporting the cover we were all under snapped. Most people were in a state of panic now and we made our way up to the outdoor bar above us. We all huddled in under the shelter, doing our best to avoid the sideways pouring rain. I have never heard thunder as loud before and a few strikes sounded like they were right above us. The poor lady who owned the bush camp appeared to be in a state of shock and she was behind the bar with her hands clasped, eyes closed and bending her knees to the ground praying. In typical Aussie style, our new travel companions, two couples from Perth in there early 50’s, who enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, asked the husband owner, if the bar was still open. In true acceptance and good spirit, he happily obliged and served us a glass of red wine in darkness as the power was also out . The storm eventually passed and we were left to view how our tents had fared and for most of us it was not a pretty site. Our tent had been blown on to its side about five metres from where we had erected it and it was full of water. We decided to stay the night on the truck, where we lay our half wet sleeping mats on the floor and got ourselves a few short hours of sleep before we had to be up early for Kruger NP. To say it had been a random, unexpected, and action packed night was one way of putting it.
Kruger NP, about 40,000 sq km’s in size, and located in the north-east top corner of South Africa, was where we spent the last two days game driving. The park had a different feel to it than Addo NP. It felt to me more remote and wild. There were many rivers, which Addo did not have, and there were many more waterholes, being much larger as well. This was a great habitat for hippos, and Alex was very excited to spot her first hippo. As they tend to get burnt easily in the sun, they spend their days bathing in the water, so we are yet to see a hippo in its entirety yet. You read stories in the local papers of hippos tormenting residents by coming into villages and small city centres in the night, so maybe we will have a visit one night too. We saw a 17 strong pack of Wild Dogs on the second day, which our bus driver Josh, reports it is something he has never seen. They were all feasting on a kill they had made and we were very lucky as we watched them for a good 15 minutes. They are a vulnerable species in the wild, with estimates of only 3000 of them remaining in the world. We also were lucky enough to see a female lion feasting on a baby giraffe. The difference in the lion to any other animal we saw was immense. You can see why they are at the top of the food chain. We really hope we see more lions. One thing you realise after game driving is that you are not guaranteed to see all of the animals you want to, but even if you see an animal for five seconds and it is in the wild, it is worth it. We also saw a white rhino on two separate occasions, however this was from a distance of about 1km. Don’t ask me how our super animal spotter Josh saw it. And he was driving the truck too! Another highlight for the group was spotting giraffes. They are definitely a unique animal. Alex said they also like humans have seven neck vertebrae. Figure that one out. In regards to the ‘big 5’ we have seen 4 – lion, water buffalo, elephant and rhinos. We saw numerous birdlife including eagles, vultures, and endless others. Whenever there was a group of vultures we were always on the lookout for a lion, proven when we saw the lion eating the baby giraffe, with the vultures waiting patiently above to have their feast.
We hope all is well at home. We hope the weather is starting to pick up in the UK and that everyone has survived the floods at home and can enjoy the rest of the summer heat.
Will post again soon from Zambia about our time in Botswana.
Simon and Alex
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