June 17, 2011 – A day-long heritage tour of Soweto taking in all the anti-Apartheid Struggle sites will possibly leave you a little shaken. But don’t stop there in your search for Soweto – try the after-dark venues. The vast city next to Johannesburg has a vibrance and spirit that never rests.
Its 5pm on a bitterly cold Gauteng winter’s morning, and the giant human sprawl that is Soweto climbs out of bed. The Old Potchefstroom Road that cuts through this city of about 2-million souls starts to throb with the traffic of thousands of buses and taxis.
Over in Dube District, the people at Wandie’s Place are hard at work preparing the ingredients for our lunch later in the day: meats, vegetables, porridges, sauces and salads.
When touring Soweto, it’s almost mandatory to have a guide with
(a) a sense of history,
(b) a sense of geography and
(c) a sense of humour.
We begin in the bustle of the Baragwanath Taxi Rank, near the largest hospital (with 3 200 beds) in the Southern Hemisphere. Our guide will point out the merry roadside butchers, we will blanch slightly and then move on past a scrapyard, which some local wags call ‘The Ladies’ Parking Garages’.
We stop off at the Kliptown squatter camp, chat with the residents and marvel at the human spirit that can survive here in these narrow, rutted alleyways.
We’re going to Regina Mundi, a massive Catholic church that was once a focal point of the anti-apartheid Struggle and is home to the famous Black Madonna and Child painting. En route, we pass two cooling towers of the old Orlando power station, where young adventurists are busy abseiling. Touring Soweto means different things to different people.
At the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Mandela House in Vilakazi Street, we get a sombre sense of the 1976 uprisings against ‘Bantu education’ (the education system under Apartheid, during which black children where forced to learn in Afrikaans, and given far fewer resources than and their white counterparts). Outside, children who have never seen the days of Apartheid are strolling back from school. It’s time for us to head off for a late lunch in Dube District – and a night of jazz, jazz, jazz at The Rock of Rockville…