As planned the rest of our arrival day in Johannesburg was relaxing. We caught a ride with a driver from the lodge to the Festival Mall to get a bite to eat and shop for bottled water and other necessities. We ate at Panarotti’s where Gepke and I shared a pizza. The mall was very much like you would see in the US or Europe, so there was not a lot to remind us of the fact that we are in Africa. Even some of the stores are the same we would expect to see at home.
At about 3 PM the driver was back to pick us up, and we returned to our room. We intended to just relax a little and read, but the jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks and the minute I laid down on the bed I went out like a light. I woke up just in time to join other guests in the common room, where we talked for a while with a South African family. It’s always interesting to hear about the country from a local’s perpective. They were visiting their son here in Joburg, and were leaving in the morning to see their other son in Dubai. They live on the west coast on a farm in an area that we will likely be visiting in the coming weeks as well. We ate dinner at the lodge at a table next to a German couple that had already spent more than a week here traveling to, amongst others, the Kruger Park. Their stories gave us an idea of what to expect to see as far as wild life is concerned.
We finished dinner just sortly before 9 PM, which in our condition was the perfect time to turn in for the night. For me the night was mostly a period of complete unconsciousness, briefly interrupted by my phone ringing. I managed to wake up enough to turn off my ringer, I am not answering any sales calls from spammers on vacation…
In the morning we were both wide awake at 5:15 and got up a little after 6. The shower was wet and warm, nothing more needed, and it refreshed us both. After a quick breakfast, we were ready to face the day. We met up with Brian and Julie from Florida who would be going with us on our tour of Johannesburg. A blue minivan pulled into the lodge and the driver introduced himself as Jozef. Jozef was going to take us for a ride through Johannesburg, to the Apartheids museum and Soweto. He was super friendly and knowledgeable as he drove us and explained everything we saw along the way. First destination was downtown Johannesburg where everything was very quiet as today was a national holiday: Freedom Day. Jozef also warned us for the high crime rate in downtown Joburg, so we needed to stay close to him. We got out of the car near what used to be the Carlton Hotel. In this buidling we took the elevator to the 50th floor, from where we had a great view over the city. Jozef explained that due to the deteriorating conditions in downtown, many businesses were moving away to the newer business district Santen in the north of the city. We walked around on the 50th floor en got an explanation of everything we saw in the north, east, south and west as we circled the building.
The tour continued through Joburg, mostly just driving by car after which we then stopped at the Apartheids Museum. Jozef arranged entrance for us, after which we went through the museum on our own. It’s both impressive and depressing what South Africans went through during this period in their history. The stories of Nelson Mandela are familiar to us, but here it is told in detail with artifacts and fotos from the beginnings of South Africa and time leading to Mandela’s struggle and his climax as President of South Africa. We left the museum quietly and mostly impressed at what we had seen.
From here we travelled on to Soweto. This township came into existence as the only place black africans were allowed to settle, as all other residential areas in Joburg were strictly controlled by the white minority government. Nowadays Soweto is not a bad place to live, and we were actually surprised to see how beautiful some of the properties here are. But there is also poverty in Soweto in the form of shanty villages with homes made of nothing more than reused wood and corrogated steel. We were guided through one area with shanty homes and were even invited inside one. There is a high percentage of unemployment here and the locals try to make some money showing tourists how they live and selling trinkets. It was a little embarrassing to us in a way, but they appreciate the opportunity to make some money in a for them dignified manner as opposed to having to resort to hand-outs.
After this shanty village tour we went to see Mandela’s house which has been converted to a small museum. On the way there we also drove pass Winnie Mandela’s house who still lives in Soweto, though in one of the largest homes there. We had a late lunch in a restaurant next to the former home of Desmond Tutu. The lunch was a more typical african buffet with the opportunity to try out some dishes we had not had the opportunity to try so far.
All in all it was a full educational day with our souls touched emotionally both in a positive sense but also some sadness over the history that lead to this point. Soweto was so different than I had expected, but in a positve way.