We had a fantastic day today. After a very good sleep and a wonderful breakfast overlooking the city of Johannesburg we headed out on a tour of Soweto, starting with the Apartheid Museum and ending with the Hector Pieterson Museum. In between we visited Mandela’s home, which is now a small museum, and we had a local lunch with our guide. There is so much to tell that we will do it in stages today and tomorrow so please check back on this post as we put it together. It’s almost dinner time so we will publish it as we add information.
We left the hotel with Ben, our excellent tour guide at 1030am and returned at 5pm. We were concerned that much of what we would see would be very hard to take in. Ben started the tour by saying “I am going to show you the good, the not-so-good and the ugly.” And he did – all while answering our many questions with honesty, humour, grace and pride. He has many good reasons to be proud, he has lived in Soweto all his life – he tells us he is 40 and the youngest child of 4. His mother is 75; his father left when he was 6. Their household also consists of his two nephews, 21 and 17 (as their uncle he has resposibilities to see they are raised well) and his own 2 children on weekends. He is a very conscientious and kind man. We know this by the respectful and kind way he treats the many people – both old and young – that we come in contact with over the course of the day. He tells us he has just finished paying the bride price (dowry) for his second wife. He is proud to tell us she is a teacher. We are sorry to learn that his mother has just been diagnosed with TB. Happily she is being well cared for in a local hospital. He tells us that healthcare Is provided for all South African citizens. We later learn that TB is often used in Africa as a euphemism for AIDS, which has a significant stigma attached to it. We also learn from reading the newspapers that although health care is provided for all, the quality is not at all what it needs to be. We hear – although we don’t see it – that thousands of people wait in the fields surrounding hospitals, hoping to be cared for at some point. This is a third world country for many of its citizens and a wealthy first world country for others – not unlike Canada with its challenges in First Nations communities. The significant difference here is that the African majority of many millions of people is by far the poorest and the least educated.
A little about Soweto: It stands for SOuth WEst TOwnship and is about 30 minutes from our hotel. The population is estimated to be about 3.5 million but no one really knows how many people actually live there. Apparently the government conducted a census last year, the results have not been released yet. Both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived there for many years. In fact Bishop Desmond Tutu still has a house which his son keeps for him and he stays there when he is in Johannesburg. The restaurant where we were invited to have an excellent local buffet lunch was beside his house.