Johannesburg & Soweto

Reflecting on my trip to South Africa and trying to decide on what to write about a destination that I’ve been to so many times it suddenly hit me.  Why do I love South Africa and why is it my favorite destination?  This is what I want to share with you.  I love each part of the country that I visit differently as they are each so different from the esthetics to the people.  First going through the photos (1800 total) Howard Little of Video Twist Productions took, I decided the best way to write about South Africa and what I love would be in segments, first starting with Johannesburg & Soweto.

Not only was Johannesburg & Soweto the first city we visited, it’s a great place to start.  Notice, I did not say cities.  That’s because SOWETO is not a city but rather an acronym for South Western Townships, the area that blacks were forced to live during apartheid.

Johannesburg is forever changing and is now making a comeback.  There was a mad exodus once apartheid ended that was the result of fear, uncertainity and an influx of immigrants.  At one point not too long ago Johannesburg was completely abandoned and gave way to the growth of surrounding suburbs like Sandton.  Sandton is where a lot of businesses moved to and is where our hotel, the Michelangelo is, along with Mandela’s Square, a bustling center for business, dining and shopping.  When I interviewed Laura Vercueil, PR Manager for Johannesburg Tourism, she said that Johannesburg in a word is vibrant.  The city has come to life with the arts, culture and a new train the Gautrain that is bringing people from the suburbs to the city.

There’s a lot of history about apartheid in Johannesburg & SOWETO as it was the epicenter of the time and SOWETO is the largest township in the country.  It’s very emotional and to some quite infuriating.  After we visit the Apartheid Museum, Hector Petierson Memorial and Museum, Constitution Hill, The Mandela House, The Regina Mundi Church and an actual township you are emotionally drained.  You’re glad you went, enjoyed the experience and walk away with an appreciation for resilience and people who are prideful.

SOWETO is the home to the most famous street in the world, Vilakazi Street, where two Nobel Piece Prize Laureates once lived.  Prisoner to President – Nelson Mandela and Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu.  I love to see the surprise on everyones face when they learn and see that SOWETO does not represent poverty but the home to millionaires and famous people.  Of course there is poverty, but it’s also a diverse home of strength, pride, history and a great example.  When you go, you have to visit the places I have mentioned, the museums and memorials but you also have to stop and talk with people and just hang out to get the true feel of SOWETO.  Another way to mix and mingle is to visit a local place for lunch and chat with some of the other patrons.  One that is very famous is Wandi’s, everyone from Presidents to locals have lunched there.  You can also do what we did and visit a B&B like Robby’s to have lunch.  The lunch is prepared by the lady of the house, Sophie.  This is real home cooked soul food.  What a treat.

Every morning when I had breakfast at my hotel, the people who worked there greeted me with a smile.  But this wasn’t just service with a smile, it was welcome to my country and enjoy your stay.  Going to dinner at a restaurant in Mandela’s Square I had a choice of Italian, African, Indian, Seafood, Greek just to name a few and not to mention the many restaurants and fast food outlets inside the mall. Each place I visited the people were kind and made you feel welcome.  The people we encountered at the places we visited along the way were helpful, polite, willing to speak with you and interested in you.  I only hope that we treat people the same way and make them feel welcomed in our country.

Photo Show for Johannesburg & Soweto

Ja’Vonne Harley
Host, The Traveling Eye
President, Advantage International