Exploring Johannesburg and Soweto, South Africa

Good day,

Today was one of the busiest we’ve seen on this website for quite some time, in fact I don’t remember a day quite so jam packed. There is lots to do and see if you’re on a tour of Johannesburg and we’re on a timeline so instead of eating steady meals, we tasted a bit of countless and it was a great way to start getting a grasp on the culture and history of this dynamic country…

At 9am we took a drive to Houghton which is the most upscale neighborhood in all of Johannesburg and the mission was to see Nelson Mandela’s house. The place is a fortress but photos are prohibited and I’ll respect that. Will say that the entire area has more security than Fort Knox and some of those houses should be reclassified as castles. From there we made our way to the Origins Centre.

The Origins Centre premise is that we’re all from Africa so it’s only fitting to have a museum dedicated to just that. It hosts exhibits about early mankind and a large collection of rocks and whatnot used in the early days. The most interesting parts to me were the skull collections which showed how our heads formed over time, murals depicting the hunt and a portrait called “The Initiatives”. The portrait explained how local tribe boys are sent to the hills for a month where they are educated on the history of their people and other rituals so when they return they are considered men. If this is your type of thing, could easily spend an afternoon here.

Afterwards we made our way to Museum Africa which is where the old market used to be in downtown Johannesburg. It hosts countless exhibits from geology to modern art and most things in between with a  goal of discovery or as they say, rediscovery of the continents past. What I liked most was the political cartoon section, the modern art and recreation of the hostels and housing conditions the miners endured. Did you know that 70% of the free world’s gold comes from South Africa? If you’re into geology, you’ll love it with countless pieces of rock that could be be described as art.

Next we went to the Apartheid Museum and all I can say is wow… If you don’t get chills when you’re there numerous times you simply don’t have a pulse. As a Canadian I had heard of apartheid but never really knew that much, now I know considerably more. Someone I want to mention is Robert Sobukwe, have you heard of him? He was the president of the PAC and arrested in March of 1961 and never re-released. We all know about Nelson Mandela but there are so many other people who suffered and gave their lives to help put an end to apartheid. He had a quote which went something like “You can keep me in a prison but you’ll never make me a prisoner”. Supposedly until he died he never backed down from his cause despite being held in very inhumane conditions and spending absurd lengths of time in solitary confinement.

I’d also like for you to read about Steve Biko as he is one of the many who traded his life for the cause he believed in. These are just two people among many, at the end of the exhibit they have a large South African flag and a massive pile of rocks depicting that it was countless individuals who made personal sacrifices most could never imagine to make their dream of an equal South Africa a reality. This entire museum was incredibly moving and if you read and watched the videos and thought too much about it, your eyes could start to tear. It’s also a tribute to the human spirit – no matter what the odds nothing can stand against persistence, definiteness of purpose and ultimately faith.  Cameras were not allowed and I respected their wishes, I highly recommend you visit this museum…

From there we went into Soweto which houses roughly 4.5 million people and almost all black. It’s where the original hostels were built when during the gold rush Johannesburg relocated all the black people living in the area. To this day it’s roughly 122km, more than 40 suburbs and serviced by roughly 40,000 mini vans that act as public transport. In 1994 when the first democratic election took place, the people living in Soweto were given the titles of the land they live in, many people have been upgrading their houses and it’s a neighborhood on the rise. It’s also the hometown of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. What’s even more incredible is that both of them won a Nobel Peace Prize and yet even more incredible is that they lived on the same street, no more than a block away!?

Naturally the entire area is very touristy and Desmond Tutu’s family still lives in the same place. They have a large grey wall which is even less photogenic than myself so this plaque will have to do. Nelson Mandela’s house is gated but I managed to snap a few shots to give you an idea. On the topic of ideas, today has taught me that anything is possible if you believe in an idea and all outward actions ultimately start from one but that topic is for another day as yet again, I digress…

Next we saw the corner that sparked the revolution. The high school in Orlando, Soweto is where students decided to protest on June 16th, 1976. They protested against a new legislation making Afrikaans the official language to cover the curriculum. They protested in peace and were met with bullets to the back from the police. A gentleman of only 13 years old named Hector Pieterson was the first person to be killed in this clash, he showed up for a peaceful protest and got a bullet in his back. This is the incident which is considered “the spark” that started the revolution which ultimately led to the end of apartheid.

There is a square dedicated to him a few blocks from where the shooting took place. There is also a photo of a child carrying him, it reminds me of “the girl in the picture” from Vietnam. There is a fountain beneath the picture which represents the tears of the parents who lost their children. Not only was today busy but it was heavy, I’m still tired physically from the trip over but emotionally I’m drained. Afterward we headed to Regina Mundi Church which was the meeting place where most of the political moves were decided. Supposedly the church had to to go under lots of repair as it was riddled with gunshots. It’s built for 2000 people but would often house 5000 people during political rallies. This church played a very large role in the end of apartheid.

Next we visited the Freedom Square Monument in Soweto which is now in the form of a tower and houses the 10 rules that were set forth in 1955 for democracy in South Africa. They were finally put into law in 1994 after the first democratic election, at the very top of the monument there is a large X and no it’s not the Christian cross but an X to represent the right to vote. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg but the history of South Africa is incredibly fascinating from the finding of gold outside of Johannesburg which caused the serious influx of foreigners to the modern day.

Finally we visited a “temporary settlement” in Johannesburg. These people have no running water or electricity and share a communal tap. We visited a family and saw the living conditions and the photo below is of some of the children with some of the largest smiles you can find anywhere. Let’s just say life is a considerably larger struggle without the basic amenities most in the western world never even take the time to appreciate.  Also this is just the surface, in such conditions I am sure there are countless other complications we can’t even fathom. Many of the families moved there in 1994-1995 and still remain.

Today made an impression on me, it was long but very glad I got to experience what I did.

Tips hat,


  1. Bill

    February 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Wow, you’re making me want to go to South Africa now! Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to checking out more of your posts…

    • Rob

      February 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks Bill, we are just getting started!

  2. The Welsh Wizard

    February 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Very moving and makes one stop to think.

    • Rob

      February 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      Definitely makes you think.

  3. Maryanne

    February 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    All I can say thus far is WOW! First the hotel and the food from the previous post, now all of this history? Very interesting and moving! Good to see you happy, healthy and inspired! I look forward to reading more!

    • Rob

      February 18, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks Maryanne, shaping up to be the adventure of a lifetime.

  4. Larissa

    February 19, 2012 at 1:43 am

    This is all really interesting; unfortunately I don’t know much about this chapter in history at all so really cool that you’re sharing all that you are learning. You’re traveling with a crew and guides I am sure but what do you say about traveling through there solo? Safe/easy to do? Because I need to go.

    • Rob

      February 19, 2012 at 2:13 am

      I’d come alone and probably will at some point in the future. Have already thought a few times that I should have taken a later flight home.

      Also did not know much about this chapter in history. Have a better idea now but know I’ve just scratched the surface. You could spend days in the apartheid museum.

      Glad you’re finding it informative.

  5. chessNwine

    February 19, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Awesome post! I want to go to South Africa badly, especially after reading through your adventure.

    • Rob

      February 19, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Thank you good sir, heard great things about the rest of the country as well.

  6. Carlo+Geneva

    February 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    From Corn Islands to South Africa. Quite the epic trip! haha. I’m glad you guys are getting the “big picture” tour of South Africa. There is a lot of history with the country that should never be forgotten. But there is definitely a lot to the country that should be publicized. Great job on the up to date coverage+blogging!

    • Rob

      February 20, 2012 at 3:51 am

      Thanks for the kind words, this place definitely has a lot of history that should not be forgotten. Also has an incredible amount of beauty that should be enjoyed

      Quite the place, indeed.

  7. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Marrakech, Morocco « The Blonde Gypsy

  8. charlie

    February 23, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Dang, that is a lot of worthwhile exploring around Jburg in one day. One of those days where you learn more in 1 day than one usually does in 1 week. Early to rise…

    • Rob

      February 24, 2012 at 12:03 am

      Couldn’t agree more with everything you just said.

      Thanks for stopping by Charlie.

  9. Piet

    November 17, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Rob, so great to see how you’ve enjoyed our very special country, South Africa! Or did you? You’ve only experienced the worst! Do come again! We have so much MORE to offer than political tourism! Quite frankly, I have studied all the POI’s you’ve visited myself and, like most people, often found them one-sided where the “other” view is being hidden on purpose. We’re proud of our progress towards democracy, but much of what I’ve read, even on your pictures are being applied as racism in reverse by the ANC government! Equal human rights could never exist with the way BEE is being forced by the ANC! They are trying to punish young whites like yourself who were born AFTER Apartheid by refusing them employment, left right and centre! Why do you think a million of white SA are now living overseas!?
    Don’t be fooled by their one sided version of our history! Apartheid, the way it was implemented was definitely not the answer, but what the ANC is putting in its place is impoverishing everyone, especially the poor blacks who are not as resilient to defend themselves against greedy politicians. Read Pres. Zuma’s quarter billion Rand upgrade of his house with tax payers money! Economic growth during the sad Apartheid years were the best ever! How do you build happiness on the backs of others? Why is SA the only country in the world with ANC laws that protect the majority against the minority!? That’s a total give-away of their “hidden” inabilities.
    Next time you come, enjoy our nature and amazing travel experiences rather! Believe me there are far more interesting history in SA than what you can learn in the Apartheid museum!! Then you will know what outstanding tourism is! Looking forward to seeing you here again!

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