Last week I did an all-day tour of Soweto with Eenblond Tours. “Eenblond” means “a blonde” in Afrikaans, which makes sense because that’s exactly what Gilda Swanepoel is.
Gilda and I are kindred spirits — we’re the same age and our life stories have many parallels. Gilda spent lots of time traveling solo around southern Africa and used to write a travel blog. She loves getting to know Joburg’s people and cultures in a very intimate way. I’d been meaning to take one of her tours forever and she does lots of different ones, around Joburg and all over South Africa. But I was particularly keen to go to Soweto with Gilda.
I’ve been to Soweto — which is technically part of Joburg but really its own place entirely — countless times (browse all of my Soweto posts here), but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go again. Soweto is so huge, so historic, and so diverse that no one visit is the same as another, even when you go back to the same places. My tour with Gilda was no exception.
A Day in Soweto
Gilda fetched me at my house and then we went to pick up her other guest, a young Spanish guy named Alex. (I must give Alex a shout-out for traveling all the way to South Africa just to visit Joburg/Gauteng. He didn’t even go to Cape Town or Kruger!) We then proceeded to Kliptown.
Kliptown is the oldest township in Soweto and the birthplace of the Freedom Charter, which later served as the blueprint for South Africa’s constitution. I’d been to Kliptown before but discovered many new things this time around.
Over the course of the day, Gilda periodically hands her guests over to other guides who provide a more localized picture of Soweto. In Kliptown we walked around with Thulani Mhambi, who I’d met years ago at another Kliptown function but neither of us remembered until later.
We met Bob Nameng, founder of the world-renowned Soweto Kliptown Youth program, and admired the art in his courtyard.
Then we walked around the neighborhood and I was reminded about how much beautiful street art there is in Kliptown — much more than the last time I was there a few years ago.
We finished our walk through Kliptown with a visit to the Freedom Charter monument in the middle of Kliptown Square.
This post is already long but I haven’t even covered half our Soweto stops yet. Here’s a lightning-round recap of the rest of the day.
We headed to Soweto’s Jabavu Township to meet Mpho, a woman who makes umqombothi (traditional South African beer). Umqombothi is a bit sour-tasting for me but I’m sure I’d get used to it if I drank enough.
I only had a small sip. Alex downed a full glass in no time and also finished mine.
Native Rebels is a restaurant/bar/music venue in Jabavu that I’ve been wanting to check out for ages. We only had time for a quick drink on the balcony, but my suspicions were confirmed: This place is seriously cool and I need to go back for a proper meal and some music.
Soweto Home Based Care Givers
We made a very quick stop at Soweto Home Based Care Givers, a grass-roots program that provides after-school feeding to schoolchildren. Gilda needed to drop off some seeds for the program’s veggie garden.
For more information about the Soweto Home Based Care Givers, please contact Gilda directly or go on her tour (recommended).
Lunch at Aggie’s
We were starving and went for lunch at Aggie’s Restaurant, also in Jabavu. Aggie’s is a classic South African food and watering hole, where we feasted on beef and chicken stew, pap (maize porridge), potato salad, chakalaka (spicy tomato relish), and African spinach.
Hector Pieterson Memorial and Vilakazi Street
The Hector Pieterson Museum/Memorial and Vilakazi Street, both in Orlando West, are the centers of Soweto’s tourist culture. I have been many times. But our guide, Mlungisi Tsabalala, told the story of the 1976 Soweto Uprising in a uniquely moving way.
I learned several new things, such as Benedict Vilakazi was the first black South African to earn a Ph.D., and that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu only lived on Vilakazi Street for 11 days concurrently.
We also watched a performance by Ditsau Tsa Koma, the fabulous Tswana dance troupe that works on Vilakazi Street.
Before leaving Vilakazi Street we met “the Sandman” at the corner of Nbakane Street. The Sandman makes Soweto souvenirs using different-coloured sand from nearby mine dumps.
We finished the day at the old Soweto cooling towers in Orlando East. I’ve blogged about the towers many times and I even bungee-jumped off them once. So I will end my narration with this.
My tour was complimentary as a member of the media. All opinions expressed are mine.