I started to share about my trip to Johannesburg here, but had way too many things to talk about, so here’s part 2 of my trip, which includes more tourist attractions and a safari!
Day 4: Johannesburg CBD, Soweto Part II, Apartheid Museum
After a good night’s sleep, mom and I embarked on Thursday for the rest of the sightseeing, especially our long awaited Soweto adventures. We hopped back on the bus and rode ALL the way around (our stop was 8 out of 11) to get to Gold Reef City (stop 6) while taking in some sights. We passed by a lot of what we’d seen the previous day, but as we drove through Gandhi Square and Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD), we got to see all the different and interesting building structures that the city has. Unfortunately, many of the buildings that are not municipal are abandoned, due to white flight out of Joburg after 1994. Ironically, though all these buildings are empty, we saw people lined up at the housing offices trying to get housing – why can’t the government incentivize white property owners to sell or rent their buildings to blacks? Politics.
We eventually got on the Soweto Tour, and our lovely and charismatic tour guide gave everyone names. As I said before, my memory is unfortunate so I’ve forgotten my own name but my mom was given the name Mama Tembe (or something like that). Anyway, our first stop Soccer City/FNB Stadium/The Calabash – where the 2010 World Cup was played. However, the only time the stadium was completely full was for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. After Soccer City, we started to drive through Soweto, and stopped outside a typical 4-room, match box house that is the standard government issued housing in South Africa.
Next we drove by Orlando Towers, which are functional (I think) cooling towers that have been painted with huge murals. When researching what I was going to do in South Africa, I came across the bungee jump at Orlando Towers, and I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to check something off my bucket list in another country! I was scared out of my mind but my mom was there by my side (well, until the actual drop) to encourage and pray for me.
After all the excitement at Orlando Towers, we hopped back on the Soweto tour van and continued onto more serious sights. Driving through the different neighborhoods of Soweto, we saw where the upper middle class lived, where the middle class lived, and where the poor lived. Sometimes, the divides were just separated by streets. Shacks were put up often by migrants to South African from other countries who weren’t eligible for government housing. We stopped at the Hector Pieterson memorial, in honor of the 13 year old boy who was killed during the 1976 Soweto uprising, when police opened fire against thousands of protesting students. The boy who carried Hector in the iconic image that went viral around the world, Mbuyisa Makhubo, left South Africa to avoid police harassment and was never heard from again. All the stones in the memorial represent a child who was part of the protests, and the holes in the walls represent children who were lost, either killed or missing, after the uprising. Right outside the memorial was a cultural market where my mom and I bought some trinkets to bring home.
After the Hector Pieterson memorial, we drove by Vilakazi Street, where we passed the houses of both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It was pretty cool that the two men lived so close to one another, though it’s unclear how close they were. My mom and I were pretty drained at this point, so we opted not to go into the Mandela house museum, so we continued on to the last stop in Soweto – Walter Sisulu Square – which to our surprise was right outside the Soweto Hotel! Walter Sisulu Square is named after an important anti-apartheid activist and leader of the African National Congress, who was also jailed at Robben Island for 26 years. Nelson Mandela and Sisulu were close, as Mandela was his best man at Sisulu’s wedding. The square itself was where thousands of South Africans secretly met in 1955 to draft up the Freedom Charter, what they saw as the most important tenets of a fair and equal life. It’s crazy to think that South Africans fought for their freedom FOR SO LONG – it wasn’t until 1994 that they became a democracy and elected Mandela. The Freedom Charter today remains the guiding principles of the African National Congress, and inspired the Constitution. This concluded our Soweto tour, so we said bye to our awesome tour guide and driver!
Once back at Gold Reef City, mom and I went next door to the Apartheid Museum. Now I always get in my feelings when I go to black or African history museums, because I’m always pained by the worldwide oppression and subjection of my people, but this museum? All the feels. First off, it is MASSIVE. When I read that only reading the headers would take you 1.5 hours, I assumed they were just joking around, because I’m a fast reader and all. But no, the museum is really a half-day excursion, taking you through the very, very long history of the apartheid and it’s end in South Africa. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, and the better because we really got to focus on the exhibits. The most powerful one for me was a room that resembled a jail cell, so we saw the kind of solitary confinement conditions that people imprisoned under apartheid faced, for years and years. The second thing that stuck out to me was an exhibit that listed all the people killed by police during apartheid, and their “official” causes of death as noted by the police. One man, really a young guy (I think he was 19), had his cause of death listed as slipped and fell from 5 stories high. The ABSURDITY of this stung me, but in thinking about the current genocide of black people in the US by the police, and the various explanations they’ve given to justify their actions, I realized that we have not come very far. My mom and I spent almost 2 hours at the museum, and while we walked through each portion, I left feeling like I’d only seen half of what was available because I couldn’t read every detail. After a sobering ride back, we stopped at Nando’s, one of my favorite fast food spots that I rarely have the chance to visit, for some great chicken.
Day 5: Pilanesburg Safari
The next day, Mom and I went on a safari day trip to Pilanesburg, with Pieter of Big Six Tours. While we had some mechanical difficulties and an interesting conversation about race, responsibility, and opportunity that made me raise my eyebrow one a many time with Pieter, the day was amazing! We stopped at a market on the way where we met a lot of East African merchants, and we did the rest of our souvenir shopping. The safari itself left from the Bakubung Lodge, where we grabbed lunch and because the lodge was at the edge of the reserve, we observed some tourists allow a monkey to eat their spaghetti #wheretheydodatat?? The best times to go on a safari are either first thing in the morning or later in the evening because the animals aren’t hiding from the sun, so our sunset safari was perfect. I faked like I was a real photographer and took HUNDREDS of landscape photos – I really mean hundreds. The sky and the plains and the mountains were just so beautiful! More interestingly, we saw all types of animals – hippos, elephants, warthogs, wildebeests, antelope, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, birds, and smaller furry things. We chased a leopard that killed a baby wildebeest, but couldn’t actually see it – we could only see the wildebeest’s mom standing nearby, watching the leopard eat her baby #circleoflife. Once the sun went down, your girl got sleepy, and I haven’t yet figured out how to take great pictures with my camera at night, so I turned down and closed my eyes, and almost missed out on lions! I couldn’t get a photo, but I did see 3 lion cubs with my own bare eyes, running through the bush. I’d never seen lions on a safari so I felt really accomplished.
Day 6: Natural Hair Event, Maboneng
As Saturday was our last day, we didn’t do anything touristy, but attended the Johannesburg Naturals Meet Up (see recap here) in Maboneng! Maboneng is a cute little area that I recommend for visitors, with GREAT clothes shopping and cute world cuisine (sushi, Nigerian food, etc). After the event, mom was anxious to get to the airport (she missed her husband, awwww) and we also had spent all our coins not wanting to have any left over so we didn’t spend much time eating or browsing but next time I’m in Joburg I will definitely pop into one of those adorable boutiques and get some sushi made by Africans! Mom and I then went back to the hotel, took an Uber (did I mention this was possible and great) to the airport, and said bye to Johannesburg until next time!
WHEW. That was SO much to cover, and just in a span of 6 days, 2 of which were spent traveling! Clearly, there is soooo much to see in Johannesburg, and I know I didn’t even scratch the surface, but I hope I’ve given you some ideas of things you can do if you have the chance to visit yourself! I plan to write a quick summary of my top 5 recommendations for visiting Johannesburg as a tourist, so stay tuned for that post!