Jun 072011

Downtown Johannesburg

After two overnight flights (Calgary – London and London – Johannesburg) I’m finally in Africa at the start of our photo safari. The flight arrived very early but fortunately the hotel had our rooms ready and we were relaxing by 8am.

As we had the whole day here we decided to catch up with some sleep and in the afternoon and had a fascinating tour of Soweto with Modeno who was a fun and informative guide.

Our first stop was downtown Jo’burg and we visited a traditional medicine shop. Dried roots filled shelves; drums, spears and other ceremonial regalia were around the walls and lots of animal products such as hooves hung from the ceilings.

Modeno told us how many of the products were used, including a rather graphic description as to how to use a spear; I’ll save you the details!

A sign of the times. An old apartheid sign in downtown Johannesburg.

Before arriving in Soweto we drove past the ‘Kalabash’ soccer stadium that was used for the main events in the 2010 soccer world cup and then went to the cooling towers at the old Orlando power station in Soweto.

The cooling towers have incredible art painted all around them which was done by scaffold, as you can imagine the middle was difficult due to the concave shape of the towers. The towers are connected by cables with a bungy jumping platform in between them.

One of the two painted Soweto cooling towers

A family lives here. No electricity, running water or sanitation.

I was expecting Soweto to be full of depressing shanty houses. It certainly has many of those but some areas are surprisingly affluent. Winnie Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent South Africans still live in Soweto. There are still a lot of shanty areas that have incredibly small houses made of corrugated steel with no electricity, running water or sanitation. The government is slowly rebuilding Soweto but it is taking a very long time, which must be frustrating for the inhabitants when they see the infrastructure improvements that were made for the soccer world cup.

Our final stop was to the Hector Pieterson museum in Soweto. Hector was killed when black children protested against being educated in the Afrikaans language on June 16th, 1976. It was the police’s reaction to this protest that drew condemnation from around the world. Although Hector was not the only child killed, he became an icon of the struggle against apartheid due to a photograph of him being carried from the scene. It shows the power that photography has as a medium.

Tomorrow we head to Botswana and start our safari in the Okavango delta. Look out for the next blog post on June 16th which will be from Victoria Falls.

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