Today I was a committed tourist for at least a morning! I signed up for the Soweto tour to make a pilgrimage to something I studied at school at a time when you couldn’t get any text books to even mention the killing of school children on the streets of Soweto. Having strolled up still eating my breakfast, we sat in the mini bus until it filled up and then made our way through the congested traffic to downtown Joburg, which during apartheid, was the ‘non white’ shopping area. I had to take a picture of the ‘Museum of Man Science’ which seemed to be stuffed full of bits of dead animals and was Africa’s answer to herbal remedy with just a tad of Viagra. It was then onwards through the beer-brewing district, more construction and a new World cup stadium, then past gold mines – apparently Joburg is built on mining tunnels and they did not back fill!
Finally we saw the small brick houses of Soweto spreading out as far as the eye could see, punctuated by two big cooling towers of the old coal-fired power station. These have now been claimed by graffiti artists and the latest attraction is a bungee jump between them, but there was no sign of volunteers for this – perhaps it’s for high days and holidays only!
We were eventually allowed out of our minibus to view a Soweto street and house. This has to change daily as there is no official tour house. We dutifully trooped into a spotlessly clean tin shack where a family of six are working hard to send their children to school and extend their house year by year. Small children smiled and hung on hands. One of the group gave them a coin but was chastised by our guide, ‘no money just sweets, you do not want to start bad habits – they will not want to go to school’.
Soweto has only just got its own shopping centre, the museum seems to have been built first. This was our next stop. The Hector Pieterson Museum tells the story of the Soweto shootings and its history through text, photographs and film. Objects are few and far between.
We were gathered up by our guide and driven down Vilakazi street in the heart of Soweto. The only street with two Nobel Peace prize winners living opposite each other, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. I am glad I visited but it was a bizarre experience that even our guide seemed to find uncomfortable.
I got back to the Hotel in time to go to the General Assembly meeting and start putting faces to names. We had a quick session to identify the speakers from the sessions we were chairing. I am still missing one of my speakers so tomorrow will be interesting. The evening’s entertainment was a fantastic dance and music performance focusing on the theme of immigration and migration and the prejudices and fears people face. Despite the serious message it was carrying I enjoyed it because it looked and sounded amazing. A quick spot of networking followed and then off to blog and bed. An early start tomorrow with buses leaving at 7am – I may find this my biggest challenge yet!