Saturday, July 29, 2006

From South Africa 2005 Part 7 - Soweto

Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 16:13:52 -0500
Subject: second last day

Hi Everyone,

Today may have been the most amazing day of my trip, even my life? We took a tour to Soweto, the township where most of the uprisings/struggle for democracy/police confrontations/shootings took place pretty much from the start of apartheid in 1948 to 1990. The tour guide's name is Joe and he lives in Soweto and knows pretty much everyone. His web site says he was also involved in the student uprising in 1976 (protesting the law by the government making Afrikaans the mandatory language of instruction for all schools) but he didn't talk about it.

Soweto is pretty much its own city with 3.5 million people including 40 white people with richer and poorer neighbourhoods, the largest hospital in the world, schools, etc. We stopped at a squatter camp, which the new government has allowed for temporary housing while they build permanent housing. This squatter camp houses 11,000 people and amazingly they have come together to make it a crime-free area. A guide took us down a street (read dirt track strewn with some garbage), showed us the daycare, the communal tap for the street (each street has one) and took us into someone's house. It's very small, made of tin, wood and cardboard - basically each family was given a plot and they made their own homes, including gardens. No electricity but there is sewage and clean water, which is most important. The plots were all very tidy but some houses (about 6 ft by 8 ft?) have 6 or 8 people living in them. There were lots of little kids, all very adorable asking for sweets.

Then we went to Nelson Mandela's old house, which is now a museum. He only lived in it for 11 days after he was released because so many people were singing and dancing outside at all hours that he had to move for some peace. Luckily, there happened to be a dance performance by a young local troupe, with singing and drama and it was amazing! I didn't think I was going to get to see any African dancing before we left so it was just so serendipitous. Most amazingly, Winnie Mandela (who still lives in Soweto) appeared and we got to meet her and get our photo with her! Apparently, she's a rather controversial figure, just having been convicted of fraud and other dodgy stuff over the years but she's very striking and a bit like Cher (she's in her 70s supposedly but looked very young and hip). She's very well respected in the community and it was quite incredible. We may even be in the Sowetan, a local daily as the press photographer asked us to write down our names.

We also stopped by the Hector Peterson memorial and museum (he was the first student killed in the 76 uprising and was only 13) but not for long because we spent so long at the performance. We were the only two people on the tour so we got excellent treatment and could do whatever we asked for. I felt the safest I've felt in Joburg and shot 2 or 3 rolls of film... many people had cameras at the performance.

This afternoon, we went to Constitution Hill, which used to be a jail but has been redeveloped to house the highest court in SA. We had a free tour (again just by luck they have free tours on Tuesdays) and they have a very good collection of prominent South African artists' work. It's right next to probably the roughest part of town, called Hillbrow, which is pretty much a dead city - all businesses up and moved to another area in the nineties. I've now shot all my film, even the two extra rolls I bought at Addo at vastly inflated prices.

In contrast to today's good luck, yesterday was bizarre and full of bad luck. It's a bit of a story but Dave's aunt and uncle's power got switched off because although she paid on Sunday, it takes 2 or 3 days to process (apparently it doesn't take nearly as long to cut someone off here) and then we had problems with their gate late at night with no light to see by. Anyways, we're at Dave's other aunt's tonight. We did nothing all day because we weren't able to get in touch with anyone to take us round. In the evening, after all the drama (3 men with no id came to the gate with tools to cut the power off and there was nothing we could do to stop them), we met up with my old high school friend, in Melville and had dinner... it was nice to catch up and hear about what she's doing... She's working with an organization involved in setting up affordable housing for impoverished people that meets the community's needs.

Richard dj'd at a bar across the street from the restaurant we ate at so we listened to him spinning local hip hop... it was very good.

So I guess that's all for now. We leave tomorrow night but are planning to go the art gallery to check out South African art then to the apartheid museum... both sad and glad to be leaving...

Off to bed now...

Love Kate

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