MK marching in Soweto on the weekend of Nelson Mandela's death

Soweto (Lockdown Day 82)

Welcome to Day 82 of the South African lockdown. It’s both freezing-cold and raining in Joburg — a very rare occurrence. It’s also Youth Day, a South African public holiday commemorating the 1976 student uprising in Soweto.

Memorial to the June 16 Soweto Uprising at the June 16 Memorial Acre
A mural at the June 16 Memorial Acre, a Soweto museum devoted to the 1976 uprising.

For the last couple of weeks I have been thinking constantly about racism. Soon after I woke up this morning, I found myself having a bit of a mental meltdown over it.

I’m not sure why (probably because there’s not much else to do on a dark, freezing-cold, rainy public holiday during a pandemic), but after I woke up I scrolled deeper than usual into my Facebook feed. I was appalled by the number of racist posts — some subtle, some flat-out hateful — that I came across, today of all days.

In a recent blog post, I said I want to use my platforms to speak out against racism and racial injustice. I am still committed to doing this, but I also can’t help thinking: What’s the point? Speaking out on racism in South Africa — or America, for that matter — feels like screaming into a gale-force wind. Institutionalized racism is woven so deeply into the fabric of our societies.

It’s all very depressing. But as the day wore on, I thought of one thing I could do to lift my own spirits and contribute to the movement in a small way.

In recognition of this day 44 years ago — when 20,000 South African students marched in a movement against racism and oppression, and at least 176 (probably more) died in a violent display of police brutality — I thought I’d share a selection of images from Soweto.

MK marching in Soweto on the weekend of Nelson Mandela's death
The MK (the armed wing of the African National Congress) march down Vilakazi Street in a memorial to Nelson Mandela, just after his death in 2013.
Child in Kliptown, Soweto, running past a mural of Charlotte Maxeke
A child runs past a mural of Charlotte Maxeke in Kliptown, which I visited during a January 2020 tour with Gilda, the South African blonde.
Band performing at Lebo's Soweto Backpackers
An evening music performance at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, 2015.
Tour guide at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto
Danny Dube, caretaker and guide at Regina Mundi Church, the largest church in Soweto. I went there for a tour in 2015. The church was infamously attacked by police during the Soweto Uprising and Danny was there that day.
Little girl dancer
A very cute dancer I encountered performing outside the Box Shop in 2017.
Kids in the Mandela House garden with a statue of Winnie Mandela
Kids look at a memorial to Winnie Mandela at the Mandela House Museum on Vilakazi Street, 2019.
Stylish school kids outside the Baragwanath taxi rank. I can’t remember when I shot this.
Sinner Jeff James in Protea Glen
Legendary spinner Jeff James performs a magical car trick in Protea Glen, sometime in 2018.
Eyethu Theatre in Soweto
The historic Eyethu Theatre, which I visited in 2015.
Kofifi Movement
Members of the Kofifi Movement strut their stuff in Walter Sisulu Square during the 2015 Soweto Wine Festival.
Martha Cooper in Kliptown
American street art photographer Martha Cooper and an entourage of artists in Kliptown, October 2013.
Radio 123 performing at Trackside in Soweto
A band called Radio 123 performs at Trackside, a Soweto music venue, in 2015. The post I wrote about this experience was called The Best Night Ever in Soweto, and it was.
Andy performing at Trackside
My friend Andy Carrie played a spontaneous set on drums that night and he brought the house down. Andy was a legend. He tragically died just over a year later in December 2016.
Man posing with statue of Walter Sisulu
A man poses with a statue of Walter Sisulu in Walter Sisulu Square in 2015, when a few of the Long March to Freedom sculptures were on display there.
Girl and grannie in Kliptown
Kliptown, 2013.

Wow, I’ve taken a lot of photos in Soweto. I’m going to stop now because otherwise I’ll be sitting at this computer all night.

Racial Justice Resources

Yesterday I watched a talk about white fragility by Robin DiAngelo, who literally wrote the book on White Fragility. If you are white and wondering what all this sudden talk about racism has to do with you, I highly recommend watching this. (It’s long, but worth it.) It made me think — a lot.

Today I read The Case for Reparations, a now-famous 2014 Atlantic essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve known about Coates’ work for years, but embarrassingly had never read any of it until now. I also wasn’t aware until two days ago that he and I are the same age and went to high school about five miles apart in Baltimore. The essay explains the history and impact of black economic oppression in America, in astonishing detail. It also gave me a lot to think about.

Happy Youth Day.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Catrina June 16, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Wonderful Soweto photos! I was actually hoping to run a marathon there in November, but obviously, that won’t happen. Maybe next year.
    I’ll read through the Atlantic article, thank you!

    • Reply 2summers June 16, 2020 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks. Yeah it’s so sad that all the races are off this year! Marathons are too far for me but I did run a 10k in Soweto once — great experience.

  • Reply Fiver June 16, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    Whenever I think about the racism debate I remember when men would come to me during the feminist movement in the 80s and ask me to explain things to them. I’d tell them to educate themselves. So that’s maybe a good thing to do right now.

    • Reply 2summers June 16, 2020 at 8:10 pm

      I think that is probably good advice.

  • Reply Bongiwe Radebe June 16, 2020 at 9:01 pm

    I literally forgot about the Coronavirus for a minute while reading this. You’ve portrayed Soweto so beautifully. Ps: I’m a Sowetan, and it so refreshing to see ‘live’ pictures of my hood, especially when every area looks and feel deserted.

    • Reply 2summers June 16, 2020 at 9:04 pm

      Aw, thanks Bongiwe. Looking forward to a time when everything is alive again.

  • Reply David Bristow June 17, 2020 at 7:11 am

    Lovely photos(I used fo work for The Sowetan in the early 80s), but the one thought I had was, OMG, the ANC still has an “armed wing”! They remind me of pics of :”war vets” in Zim during the farm invasions – all way too young to have been in any war anywhere. Living the dream I guess.

    • Reply 2summers June 17, 2020 at 7:13 am

      That particular day, the weekend Mandela died, is the only time I’ve ever seen the MK march. I assume it’s just a ceremonial thing.

  • Reply dizzylexa June 17, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Great photo’s of a special place.

    • Reply 2summers June 17, 2020 at 12:49 pm

      I couldn’t believe how many I have once I started to look.

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