Sunday, 29 July 2012

This is Africa: Soweto

Wow, how time flies! I can't believe I've been in South Africa for almost two weeks. It feels like yesterday that I was saying goodbye to family and friends and jumping on the plane to come here. But alas, that was 14 days ago.

The last two weeks have been very exciting, interesting and fun! It has been awesome to meet new people, experience Uni life and see the sights of Joburg.

Two days after I arrived, we exchange kids (8 Aussies, 2 French, 1 American and 1 Malaysian) became tourists and went on a 5-hour bike ride through the township of Soweto. Soweto is where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have lived and continue to live. It is a black township about 20 minutes from Monash Uni, which is believed to be home to about 4.5million people, according to our guide. Soweto is sometimes referred to an 'informal settlement' which means that it is illegal, but I'm not sure if all of the settlement is illegal or only parts of it.

We headed off on our bike ride from a backpackers within Soweto, along with about 20 other tourists from all of the world. There were people from the Netherlands, America, France and another bunch of Australians.
Emma and Sophie all set to go! 

Throughout the ride our guides taught us some interesting things about Soweto, as well as a bit of Zulu. We learnt how to say hello to one person, sawubona, pronounced, sow-bona, and to more than one person, sanibonani, pronounced how it is spelt, sa-ne-bow-na-ni. So as we all rode along the streets of Soweto we tried to say hello to the locals in Zulu, sometimes confusing the single version of hello with the plural, but I think we got away with it. We also learnt how to say hello in Soweto slang. It was similar to Hola, but was more like Wola Wola, and had to be said with some 'fresh' moves. These moves can include crossing your arms in a 'cool' fashion, or simply being swagger which is probably the best way I can describe it. Our guide was definitely swagger and pulled off the wola wola very well. We, on the other hand were not so swagger and stuck to the traditional way of saying hello.

Our guide NK, (with his hand up) which is short for 'freedom' in Zulu

The ride was very interesting and led us through the very different areas of Soweto. Some areas were very nice, with high fences, barbed wire and electric fences. Others were not so nice, where rubbish lined the road, but the people were just as friendly, or even more friendly and said hello to us when we attempted to say hello in Zulu. 

One of our stops was in the not-so-nice looking part of Soweto where we tasted 3 different types of beers that had been brewed there. Some locals came to join us in this beer tasting experience which included the men going first to try the beer and to let out an 'AHH' or a 'UGH' if they liked or didn't like the beer. The men had to kneel down on a straw mat whilst tasting the beer. Then it was the women's turn, but we didn't have to kneel down or exclaim whether we liked the beer or not. The beers tasted very different. One was a very milky one, another one was a sweet beer and another was quite thick. The sweet was tasted the nicest and went down the smoothest. 
The three beers we tasted

Matt (the American) keeling down to taste the beer

As part of the beer tasting, dancing and singing was required to celebrate our visit to this part of Soweto. The locals came and showed us how to do a dance where you lift up one leg, jump and then slam it on the ground again. I think it's known as the gumboot dance. We also sung some South African songs which were very beautiful. 
Susant trying out the gumboot dance, getting owned by a local

Our next stop was a memorial known as the Hector Pieterson memorial which was dedicated to the students who died after the government cracked down on protests that were occurring in Soweto. In 1976 approximately 15,000 students gathered in a part of Soweto to protest the apartheid measures within the education system in South Africa. Within these protests, 600 people were killed when the government troops opened fire on the protesters. Hector Pieterson, a 13-year old boy partaking in the protest was one of the first and youngest people killed within these protests. It was a moving memorial, with many symbolist things within the memorial including a water feature to represent the blood of those students who had died.  
The Hector Pieterson Memorial 

Following the memorial we stopped off at a restaurant for lunch to have a famous Soweto Burger. It was a delicious burger made up of bread, hot chips, cheese, an egg, tomato, some funky looking salami and ham, topped off with tomato sauce. But we all needed such a big burger after a few hours of cycling around Soweto.

After lunch we headed back to the backpackers via the road that is home to two Noble Laureates, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. We rode past Mandela's home which he grew up in but doesn't live in anymore, and Tutu's home that is still owned and lived in by his family. It was amazing to see where these two great men of South Africa had grown up and lived and to see where their great ideas and actions had come from.

Riding around Soweto was a great way to see everything, smell everything, hear everything and just take in the surrounds of the township. It was great to be able to say hi to the locals in their language and not feel so much like a tourist. (Although for the large part I did, but sometimes you can't help that)

And for those who hear the name Soweto and think danger, fear not, there was not one moment during this bike ride where I felt I was in danger. Not even when we were riding on the road with taxi hurling past us. It was a great experience where we got to say hi to the beautiful little kids that live there, highfive-ing them as we rode past, and to see the kids running to the school fence to catch a glimpse of the tourists riding past their school.

So if you're ever in Soweto, give the Soweto Bike Tour a go, it's really fun and your bum isn't that sore by the end of it :)


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