Accommodation : Peermont Metcourt, Emporer’s Palace, Johannesburg
This morning started off with a really enjoyable breakfast at the hotel, sitting outside on the grassed terrace and contemplating the day ahead. We were up early for our 8:30 pick up as organised by the Travel company in Australia. It seemed a little odd to have others managing this and for a control freak like me, a little disconcerting. Whilst organising holidays yourself takes time and planning, it does afford you some comfort in knowing who to contact in the event that things go wrong and also the chance to ask a range of questions before hand to be sure things like pick up, duration, cost etc are known.
We waited downstairs in the lobby and started to get a little concerned when at 9am, no-one had arrived. Using the contact number that we had been provided, we rang only to be told that there was no booking under our name and that no day trip had been planned. This was concerning as one night in Johannesburg gave us the chance to get used to the time difference, however two nights was not an option if all we were going to do was sit in our hotel room or gamble away our money at the hotel casino.
We decided to speak to the hotel staff at the front desk to see if there was anything they could organise for us at the last minute. A quick phone call and five minutes later Solly arrived to take us on the same kind of day adventure that we had booked through the travel company. Sure it cost us $90 Aus each but at this point we were happy that something had been able to be organised without very much notice.
Solly was a cheery South African from Limpopo province. He gushed about the safety of Botswana and lamented the corrupt politics and need for a gun in his home land. Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum. This was established to recall the history of the country and the way in which people had struggled to create a place where everyone is treated equally. The entry tickets were marked ‘whites’ or ‘non whites’ and you had to enter through the appropriate gate. Hanging from above were signs that reflected the degree of segregation within the country. Panels along the walls depicted large black and white identity cards. It hit you in the face how people must have been treated and how the colour of their skin determined their destiny.
In other rooms, movies played, illustrating the barbaric treatment of blacks and the deeds of those determined to keep them down trodden. How any of these people could have received amnesty for what they did was hard to fathom and made you wonder what would have happened if a person such as Nelson Mandela was not charismatic enough, determined enough and articulate enough to rally an entire group of people to continue to fight for as long as they did.
Leaving the Apartheid museum we then travelled around Soweto. This area was a surprise to us as we had envisaged tiny tin square boxes creating a large shanty village. In reality, this area is more like a ‘pov western suburbs’ town, maybe a Redfern kind of area. Sure you wouldn’t want to walk around in it as you would definitively stick out as someone not from this part of town but there were only a few tin boxes of the kind we thought. Other areas had hostels; rectangular brick buildings which housed groups of people and then your more traditional low level housing commission areas. It appears that one of the things that Mandela did was to try and level the playing field a little by providing ‘free’ housing to families. Unfortunately in the course of doing so, some of these families have sold their ‘free’ houses or are charging others rent to live there, creating another level of lower class. I guess though it was pleasing to see that the Soweto of the past, is different to the Soweto of today.
Traveling through Soweto township, we then went to Nelson Mandela’s house. This street is the only one in the world that can claim that it housed two Nobel peace Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They lived only a short distance away from one another in a street that now resembles more of a touristy curio destination than a street of historical significance.
Mandela’s house is small and there are still gun shot holes in the bricks and a charcoal blackened facade from where the building was fire bombed. It’s an all brick structure with a concrete floor and must have been cold in the winter.
Leaving the house, we drove up the street, visiting the Hector Peterson memorial before commencing our return to the hotel via the stadium that was used for the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup. It was an impressive building, holding 90,000 and I think the most important stop for our guide Solly who supports the Soccer team that plays there!
Once back at the hotel we were starting to fade with the time difference beginning to catch up with us. Therefore after finally getting our door fixed, we headed back to Tribes for another steak meal – great value for a Tribal Wellington and a 600g rib eye steak – $45 with drinks.
After a long day, we were done by 7pm so decided to call it a night ready for the morning flight to Zimbabwe another stop on our African adventure.