I would head to Johannesburg, South Africa around Gauteng (Gold!). What I knew about about Jo'burg wasn't pleasant. I had only known it's issues from Cry, The Beloved Country, my research on Nelson Mandela in 6th grade, District 9 thoughts -complete allegory for Soweto and District 6 let me tell you- and some similarities to the fictionalized Africa of The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm. However, I find that Jo'burg has constantly gone through changes and it is far more pleasant than you might think.
When I arrived in O.R. Tambo airport and Afrikaneer, Dino, would be my tour guide. Overall, this felt strange and not authentic, but hey I'm also European, so I guess we can have the burden and the curse at the same time.
Anyways, Dino had his shorts and Hawaiian shirt to begin the tour of Soweto. He had some great information for the half day tour of Nelson Mandela's house, Hector Pierson Memorial, and Sofiatown. Nelson Mandela's house had a lovely and gorgeous Zulu tour guide - she was a nubian goddess - who explained Nelson's history with the house, the bullet holes and took pictures. This helped me remember a lot of my research from back in the day. Of Note, Desmond Tutu lives like two blocks away from the house and still helps out the community. Also in Soweto, was the Hector Pierson Memorial known for the riot in Soweto that cost damages and lives to children and several other people protesting against apartheid. The memorial is named after the iconic image of Hector Pierson if you look it up, and includes a lot of the history of Soweto and apartheid. The surrounding area of Soweto, is peaceful; however, poor as I could tell that it had little electricity for its 2 million packed in people and would not be the safest at night.
Sofiatown in essence, was another District 6 (Harlem - yeah you damn right this is what's happening to Harlem) tale of blacks living a good and honest life before their land is requested by the white man. Again, I'll remind you that many colored or biracial lived with the blacks as well. While they were considered higher than the Bantu, they were moved and often treated just the same in Sofiatown. With this relocation, I'd like to think that there are tons of great stories to be told in media about the struggles of gentrification and apartheid in South Africa. I'm hoping there can be more films than just Tsotsi and District 9.
I was originally going to stay at Lebo's hostel in Soweto, but that was only recommended if you were doing the biking tour with a friend. Beyond highlighting another reason to travel with friends, I ended up staying at a bed & breakfast with a kind maid -whom I think the Afrikaneers talked down to. A note on that, I was able to see some of the judgment and resentment here that I'm sure existed in the late 60s and early 70s after Civil Rights in the US. Meanwhile, the bed & breakfast was near a cool street with some Portuguese influences due to Mozambiqueans visiting frequently to the country. As such, I of course ate some Portuguese stew while there and prepared for the next day.
The next day, would see Dino and I head to the Apartheid Museum because I had time as my flight out of Jo'burg was later on. At first, I was jaded about the Apartheid Museum, but it would definitely be featured in my top 10 museums of the world. From the start you get a ticket saying if your black or white and that determines the first leg of your experiences. As I got the colored ticket, I walked through basically a cell to immigration and passport information; to my left a white guy walked through the pristine clear hallways for white registration….let that sink in. Anyways, the rest of the museum has several moments in the history of Apartheid, from the laws, to the mistreatment, the riots, the activists, replicas, and a whole slew of pictures on one of the worst things to happen to a country. The museum also has different colored placards to help you determine how long your stay is going to be if you read all the information. While I initially it was only going to take me 2 hours, I probably should've asked Dino to wait 3 hours as there was so much information and a special exhibit on Nelson Mandela himself.
Dino would then drop me off and I would fly out of the Beloved Country of South Africa. My time in South Africa was eye opening. There were many moments that seemed like the US of the 60s/70s and many moments that showed a true sense of culture from South Africa. However, honestly the damage has been done to the country culturally. For while there are many authentic Zulu & other South African cultural mainstays, much if not half of South Africa's culture is European, which has created basically a biracial country in many of its thoughts and motives. As such, while I highly enjoyed my time here, I don't find it as unique as Japan, Italy or Peru.
Up next to for my travelogue is the Dominican Republic! Which will be my last country to blog before I start going into my discussions on the different cities of the US.