Yesterday, thanks to my new friends at travelwrite.co.za, I attended a “Rediscover Joburg” tour hosted by the mayor of Johannesburg. The purpose of the tour was to showcase various development projects in the city to members of the media and other invited guests. It was also a farewell tour for the mayor, Amos Masondo, who steps down this Tuesday after 10 years in office.

I showed up at the Joburg Theatre, the tour’s starting point, with no idea what to expect. When I saw the buses, I knew I was in for an exciting day.

The bus I rode during the Rediscover Joburg tour.

Local elections take place throughout South Africa this Wednesday. It turns out that yesterday’s tour was not only a tour; it was also a rally for South Africa’s ruling political party, the ANC.

There were three buses lined up — two Joburg rapid transit buses, and a double-decker tour bus plastered with ANC propaganda. I headed straight to the top of the ANC propaganda machine. There’s no better way to see a city than from the top of a double-decker bus. And I happened to sit behind the two most interesting people on the tour.

Joy Chauke (left) and Fefe Sonti (right), who I nicknamed the Football Divas. Joy and Fefe were representing their favorite Joburg football (soccer) teams — the Kaizer Chiefs (yellow) and the Orlando Pirates (red). Both teams were founded in Soweto and have a fierce and historic rivalry. Read more about the rivalry.

Our convoy took off, along with half a dozen metro police cars with sirens blaring. No stopping at red lights. (It pays to travel with the mayor.) ANC rally songs pumped from a loudspeaker at the front of the bus. The Football Divas sang, danced, and waved to their fans.

Our bus garnered lots of waves, cheers, and ANC fist-clenches.

The first stop on the tour was Constitution Hill in Braamfontein — home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court and the historic Old Fort Prison. We received a brief tour of the prison and the Constitutional Court, which was built during Mayor Masondo’s tenure.

Barbed wire fringes the prison walls. 

Pius, our Constitution Hill guide, explains the design of the court building. The building was inaugurated in 2004.

I’m ashamed that I haven’t blogged about Constitution Hill already. It’s one of the most historically significant places in Joburg and I can’t possibly give it proper treatment in this post. I’m glad I waited though, because on yesterday’s tour I met an inspiring woman who was incarcerated at the prison more than 30 years ago. I promise to tell her story, and the full story of Constitution Hill, in the near future.

We got back on the bus. A guide turned on a megaphone started narrating about the sites we were driving past. The Football Divas would have none of it. “Music!” they bellowed. The man meekly set down the megaphone and switched on the stereo.

We headed to Soweto, where we spent the majority of the day. (I was hoping to see more in the city centre but you can’t argue with the mayor, who grew up in Soweto.) One of the first landmarks we passed was FNB Stadium (formerly called Soccer City), where the 2010 World Cup final was played.

Both the Chiefs and Pirates play at FNB. “That’s our home!” yelled the Divas. Joy said she attended 17 World Cup matches last year.

A few minutes later we rode through Pennyville, a five-year-old mixed-use housing project that the mayor is very proud of.

It just so happens that both of the Divas live in Pennyville. 

The Divas’ enthusiasm reached stratospheric levels as we rode through Pennyville.

Next stop: A historic area in Soweto called Orlando West, where we toured a community park.

I noticed the Football Divas walking with the mayor through the park and asked if I could take a photo. Behind them is Orlando Stadium, a World Cup practice venue. The woman on the right, Gladys Gaily, is a quasi-Diva. She is also from Soweto but supports a team called Ajax from Cape Town. She’s a very interesting woman who may eventually become a blog subject in her own right.

Orlando kids hanging out next to the propaganda machine.

Kids enjoying the park with Orlando Stadium in the background.

Old and new in Orlando West: On the right are historic “matchbox houses” — the original houses built for black workers under apartheid. On the left is a new, much larger house.

A different old and new: In the background are neat Soweto housing divisions. In the foreground is an informal settlement, or squatter camp. These camps spring up all over Soweto (and everywhere in South Africa). The population continues to swell and there is simply not enough housing to go around.

I’m leaving out a few stops because this post is getting too long. Fast-forward to lunch at Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. We were running quite late at this point and I was about ready to eat my arm. (Learn about Kliptown in my previous post on Soweto.)

We didn’t have much time to sight-see in Kliptown, but we did encounter this musician who plays the recorder through his nose. He takes requests.

It was 3:00 when we finished lunch. I was exhausted and ready to call it a day. (The tour was scheduled to end at 4:00.) But we had one more stop: Liliesleaf Farm, which is in the far northern suburb of Rivonia. It took about an hour to get there but it was worth the trip. (I had to take shelter in one of the conventional buses for this final leg — too cold on top of the propaganda machine for me. The Divas stuck it out the whole way.)

Liliesleaf.

Liliesleaf, like Constitution Hill, requires its own blog post. Half a century ago Liliesleaf was the headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC. Nelson Mandela lived in hiding there, disguised as a gardener. A government raid on Liliesleaf in 1963 led to the arrest and ultimate imprisonment of Mandela and many of his colleagues.

Liliesleaf opened to the public in 2008. It includes an interactive museum and a research center, and it will eventually include a boutique hotel.

Quasi-Diva Gladys enjoys one of the Liliesleaf exhibits with a group of tour guests.

I’m going to revisit Liliesleaf as soon as possible so I can write a proper post about it.

The mayor’s marathon Rediscover Jozi thus came to an end. I discovered a lot, and now I’ve got a lot more blogging to do.

I was asked to take a group photo before we headed back downtown. Can you spot the divas?

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