Celebrating Youth Day

Youth Day is celebrated in South Africa on 16 June.  It commemorates the Soweto uprising of 1976 which took place in response to multiple issues with the Bantu Education Act and the government edict in 1974 that Afrikaans be used as medium of instruction for certain subjects in black schools.  Police opened fire on the protesting students and it was then when photographer Sam Nzima took the iconic picture of the dying 12 year old Hector Pieterson being carried away by another student while his sister ran next to them.

Exploring the Apartheid Museum in photos

The Apartheid era is a part of the South African history that will never go away.  It shaped South Africa’s past and future to what it is today and the results of it will be seen for generations to come.  Even though it isn’t something that should be celebrated it is something that must be remembered to make sure such things will never happen again.  Ja, ja, I can already hear comments about some of the situations we find ourselves in today, but that isn’t what this post is about.  This post is about the Apartheid Museum next to Gold Reef City in Johannesburg.  I have always wanted visit the museum  and that opportunity presented itself to me late last year while I was in Jozi for the Lilizela Awards.  I have to be honest when I say it probably isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it does tell the story of Apartheid in detail and is of particular interest to anybody who would like to learn more about the country’s history.  This is probably also where the biggest problem in the museum lies.  They are trying to convey too much information which means you could be in there for literally hours trying to read all the info throughout the exhibits.  I would have liked to see more interactive and visual representation and less writing, but what is there and gets conveyed has a very powerful and moving message.  My intention isn’t for this post to contain anywhere close to the same amount of writing but to rather be more of a photographic tour.  

When visitors arrive at the museum your entry ticket randomly classify you as White or Non-White which then dictates to you which entrance to use…. unless you want to be defiant…

I was hugely impressed with the exhibition celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.  I realize that the Apartheid struggle was so much more and bigger than Madiba himself, but he is the one who shaped the transition into a new democratic South Africa peacefully and deserves all the credit he is given as such.  Plus even though us South Africans may sometimes feel a bit of a Mandela overload, that is what international visitors want to see.

The Mandela exhibit contains not just a lot of information on Madiba’s life but also photos and artifacts like his boxing gloves in the above picture.  The Mandela Museum in Mthatha contains a lot of artifacts pertaining to his life and I would really have liked to see this exhibition having more of that as well, but what they had did had visitors glued to the exhibition.

Photographs are not ordinarily allowed in the museum but I was very fortunate that my visit was organized by Gauteng Tourism and I received media accreditation on my arrival allowing me to take photos.  The guy in the photograph is an security guard who saw my camera and very politely reminded me that photographs weren’t allowed.  I showed him the accreditation card I was given and immediately told him that I wanted to take a picture and needed a human subject in it.  As there was nobody else around at that stage I roped him in and after some directing I got the pic I wanted.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was as you exited the Mandela exhibition.  There was a number of Madiba quotes divided into categories.  Visitors are then encouraged to select their preferred quote and take a stick of that colour to place in bins in the garden just outside.  I selected the following one:
Non-Racialism
“I detest racialism
because I regard it as a
barbaric thing, whether
it comes from a black
man or a white man.” 

I made sure I got to the museum just after opening time so that I could make my way through before the crowds arrived.  As a South African I know most of the history of the Apartheid era so I didn’t spend that much time reading through the info.  I rather made sure that I got to see all the other exhibits and try to get photos of it before to many people arrived. 

One of the most striking visual parts of the exhibition for me was a Police Casspir which formed part of an exhibit on the 1976 student uprising.  Imagine one of these coming at you. 

I don’t want to end off the post with the usual “I really would like to encourage everybody to try and visit the museum at least once” because it gets a little cliché but, you know what, I would really like to encourage everybody to visit the museum at least once.  It contains a wealth of information and history, which could be a slight information overload if you overdo it, but I promise you that even if you think you knew it all you will still learn something or at least be moved in some way.   

Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards.  My visit to the Apartheid Museum was organized by Gauteng Tourism.  I received no further remuneration and keep full editorial control over the post.  

Grabbing a taxi (tour) to Soweto

Johannesburg really surprised me while on the City Sightseeing Tour of the city.  The problem is that I wanted more and got myself a ticket to do the Soweto Tour Extension the next morning.  I was up bright and early and made my way down to Gold Reef City to hop on the first vehicle of the day.  The guide for the morning was the very delightful Brenda and I was joined by a couple of Brits, a German and two Brazilians.  Soweto here we come.  The first stop was outside Soccer City (FNB Stadium) where we had the opportunity to hop out for a couple of pictures followed shortly after by a stop at the “famous” Welcome to Soweto sign. 
 
For most of the tour the well know painted Orlando Towers dominated the skyline and one can’t help but to keep glancing at them in amazement.  The stand out above the township, literally and figuratively.  The cooling towers have become an activity center with a 70 meter bungee jump from the top.  We fortunately unfortunately didn’t have time to stop for that….

The first major stop of the tour was at the Hector Pietersen Memorial and Museum.  We were met by a community guide who took us around the memorial and told us a bit more about the tragic incident that led to this memorial.  The site is just a few blocks from where the 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot on 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising when high school students from the township took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.  The iconic photograph of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, became a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime.  The tour gives you the option to either continue on foot along with the community guide to Vilakazi Street or to stay on the bus.  I opted to go on foot and as we went along the guide pointed out the significant sites one sees along the way.

Vilakazi Street is a hive of activity.  Tourists and traders everywhere.  The main attraction here is Mandela House while just down the road you will find some of the most popular eateries in the township.  You’ll also get a glance of Desmond Tutu’s house, making Vilakazi Street the only one in the world where two Nobel Peace Laureates used to live.  I had about an hour before the next tour bus came by so I had a look around Mandela House.  The museum wasn’t open yet during my last visit to Soweto so it was great to see the house Madiba and his family lived.  As I had an afternoon flight to catch I decided to skip having a meal but in hindsight perhaps I should have and I probably would have if I had a travel companion on this day.  When the next City Sightseeing combi came by I hopped back on and we were off to the last stop of the day.  This time at Walter Sisulu (Freedom) Square in Kliptown.  Here another community guide met me and took me to the Kliptown Open Air Museum that tells the story of the Freedom Charter.  It was here in 1955 that 300 people came together to adopt the Freedom Charter.  Again time constraints made me decided to jump back on the vehicle and not to explore while waiting for the next one.  I won’t say I’m sorry I didn’t, but if you do its a great way to get to know Soweto and its people, places and cultures a bit better.

Not long after we were back at Gold Reef City and it was the end of my tour.  A tour all visitors to Johannesburg should actually go on because you can’t truly say you’ve been to Jozi if you haven’t been to Soweto.

Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards.  My tour of Soweto was as guest of City Sightseeing Joburg.   I received no further remuneration and keep full editorial control over the post.  

My Mandela House selfie

I recently had the privilege to go on a Soweto Tour with City Sightseeing Joburg and one of our stops was Mandela House in Vilakazi Street.  Last time I was in Soweto they were still busy with the renovations on the house so I took the opportunity to visit and have a look.  There are various quotes throughout the house and decided to do a double whammy with this picture, taking a selfie while getting the quote on the window.

The significance of posting this today is that it is the one year anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela truly gave his life for the betterment of all in South Africa and making the transition peacefully while others wanted to do it otherwise.  For that I have all the respect in the world for this man and as a tribute I post this picture today.  My Mandela House selfie. 

The Constitutional Court and the Joburg skyline

The Constitution Court is the highest court in South Africa and is situated on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg.  Surrounded by what used to be the Number 4 Prison, the Old Fort and the Women’s Jail, the court forms part of Constitution Hill and can be visited while on a tour of the precinct.  I didn’t get to go on the tour – it’s a long story which I have told before – but I did take a stroll around and ended up on the Old Fort wall allowing me to get this picture of the court (in the middle of the pic) with a bit of Joburg’s skyline in the background.

Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto

The Hector Pieterson Memorial is one of Soweto’s iconic sites and a popular stop on a tour of the township.  The Memorial along with the Hector Pieterson Museum is situated in Orlando West and commemorate the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid.  The site is just a few blocks from where the 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot on 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising when high school students from the township took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.  The iconic photograph of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, became a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime.
I’ve been to the memorial and museum before but got to visit again while on a City Sightseeing Tour of Soweto.  This time around I gave the museum a skip due to time constraints but the memorial is definitively a must see stop when in Soweto.

Standing on top of Africa’s highest building

I got to say “I’m on top of the world”. Well sort of.  At least I can say I was on top of the tallest building in Africa.  Exploring Johannesburg on the City Sightseeing tour I was quite keen to visit the Carlton Centre in downtown Jozi.  Time allowed it and I hopped off along with a couple of my fellow travelers to head up, up, up.

The great part of being on the City Sightseer tour is that they have a guide permanently based at the Carlton Centre who takes you through the shopping centre and up to the top.  Entrance tickets are only R15 per person and the trip up the express elevator to the 50th floor literally takes seconds.  Once at the top the guide took us around showing us the 360 degree view down, and I mean literally down, onto Joburg.  The Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa (I think I’ve said that already) and once the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.  It stands 223m high and was built between 1967 and 1974.  The view is absolutely magnificent and the guide comes in very handy as he points out all the interesting landmarks as you move around the viewing windows.  A great perk of the open bus tour.  He also makes sure that you get back down and to the bus stop before the next bus comes by.  I have to be honest.  If I didn’t go on the tour I probably would never have had the opportunity to do this so just another great reason to get your ticket for a City Sightseeing Joburg tour when you are in the City of Gold.
 
Disclosure: I was in Johannesburg as a guest of the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa as one of the judges of the Lilizela Tourism Awards
My tour with City Sightseeing Joburg was organized by Gauteng Tourism. 

FNB Soccer City – The Calabash

If you are into soccer (or football as they call it in Europe), then you would at least have heard of the FNB Stadium.  Also called Soccer City and The Calabash, the stadium is seen as South Africa’s main soccer venue and is situated next to Soweto in Johannesburg.  The stadium has a capacity of 94 736 making it the largest in Africa.  Significantly it was the site of Nelson Mandela’s first speech in Johannesburg after he was released from prison in 1990 while it also hosted a massive memorial service to him after his death.
 
The stadium was designed to look like a calabash, or African clay pot, from the outside.  The cladding on the outside is a mosaic of fire and earthen colours and at night there is a ring of lights around the bottom of the structure which makes it look like there is a fire underneath the pot.
 
The stadium hosted the finals of both the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations but has also played host to major rugby matches and many top music concerts.  I’ve never had the privilege to go to a match at the FNB Stadium but its a little difficult being based over 1000 kilometers away.  Perhaps some day though. 

The Flame of Democracy

Constitution Hill is one of Johannesburg’s most prominent heritage sites.  It is the home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, and is located on the site of a number of prisons dating back to the Apartheid years.  One of these prisons were Number 4 Prison (the other two were the Old Fort and the Women’s Jail)  where a lot of awaiting trail prisoners were kept during those years.  Although most of the old prison buildings are no more, some of the stairwells were kept and made part of the new precinct as a reminder of the dark days of oppression.  The Flame of Democracy is found in one of these stairwells and was established to celebrate 15 years since the signing of the constitution.  The flame was originally lit by Nelson Mandela in his birth place in Qunu and transported to Johannesburg where it was placed in this significant spot, never to be extinguished again. 

I really enjoy visiting places like this and I wish more South Africans would.  In the USA a place like this would receive the biggest regard and respect by visitors who will make sure to include it in their itineraries and I can’t see why it shouldn’t be any different in South Africa.