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 […]
Sometimes in my quest to discover all of Joburg’s hidden places, I miss out on the un-hidden ones. Such is the case with Mandela House, the Mandela family’s former home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. It’s probably one of the top five tourist sites in Johannesburg and not only had I never blogged about the house before this, I’d never even visited. Nelson Mandela and his family lived on Vilakazi Street between the 1940s and the 1990s. The house is now a museum run by the Soweto Heritage Trust. It’s a small, one-story red brick house and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, other than the fancy fence around the property and the many photos and plaques covering the walls inside. Vilakazi Street is hugely popular with foreign tourists and student groups and it’s always choked with buses and souvenir salesmen. I’d also heard (although I can’t actually remember from who) that the house isn’t all that interesting. I guess that’s why I didn’t go for so long. But I finally wandered in earlier this month and realized I’d been completely wrong. The beauty of this house lies in its simplicity and I think it’s a stunning tourist destination. I […]
Welcome to Week 11 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Box Shop, a shopping center and coffee shop on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Andile, a.k.a. @may_i_take_apicture, to talk about a new project he’s working on called Imagine Soweto. Andile is cycling 150 kilometers around Soweto and taking 150 pictures — about four pictures for each of Soweto’s 38 townships. Andile Bhala, a.k.a. the Man With the Red Bag, in his home township of Orlando West. Andile was looking for some advice on blogging for his Imagine Soweto project. I agreed to give him some in exchange for an introduction to a new place in Soweto for my #Gauteng52 project. We wound up having coffee at the Box Shop, a relatively new development built from shipping containers on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street. Vilakazi Street is legendary as the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners (President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) lived at the same time. Vilakazi is one of […]
I was in a speeding car with three other people, careening toward the Orlando Towers — a decommissioned-power-station-turned-entertainment/adventure-center — in Soweto. “I wonder if they’re going to make us bungee?” someone asked. “There’s no way I’m doing that,” said Meruschka, as she wove in and out of traffic in our Volkswagen rental. “Me neither,” said Jenna. “I don’t want to do it,” said Paul. I sat in the back seat, trying not to feel carsick, only half paying attention to the conversation. “I’ll do it,” I said, not really thinking I’d have to. The Orlando cooling towers in May 2014. I didn’t have time to take proper photos during my most recent visit. (Read about the history of the Orlando Power Station.) View from the top of the Orlando Towers in September 2015, when I took photos with a group of bloggers during the Soweto Wine Festival. (We didn’t jump that day.) The narrow walkway in the middle is the part that you bungee from. Looking down from the top of the tower, also shot in September 2015. Meruschka had invited me and two other friends to participate in an Amazing-Race-type treasure hunt around Joburg called KnowJozi, sponsored by Bidvest Car Rental. There were […]
As mentioned previously, I spent 72 hours in Soweto as part of a campaign promoting the Soweto Wine Festival. It was an epic journey. Before this trip I thought I knew Soweto, kind of. I’d been there a lot, doing a lot of different things. But #72HrsSoweto held many surprises. Almost everything we did over the course of the weekend was new (or at least partially new) to me. Here are ten new things I did during our #72hrsSoweto weekend. 1) The Soweto Hotel The Soweto Hotel, the only 4-star hotel in Soweto, is on Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. If this hotel were anywhere else it would feel like any Holiday Inn. But the Soweto Hotel’s location makes it special. Kliptown is the oldest and most historic township in Soweto, and still one of the most disadvantaged. There’s a bustling market right below the hotel that provides excellent people-watching, as well as a monument and museum honoring the Freedom Charter. Staying there is an experience. My room at the Soweto Hotel. Sunset over Kliptown, from my balcony at the Soweto Hotel. 2) The Soweto Wine Festival I’d been hearing about the Soweto Wine Festival for years, but it had never occurred to me to go because […]
It was the first night of the #72hrsSoweto campaign, the day before the start of the Soweto Wine Festival. It was freezing cold, raining, and I was ridiculously underdressed. We had just finished a home-cooked meal — lamb stew, pap, spicy chakalaka, steak, and vegetarian curry — at the legendary Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, followed by live music and poetry around the fire. Our group was preparing to leave. I shivered, thinking about burrowing under the covers back in my room at the Soweto Hotel. “We’re going somewhere else now,” one of the other bloggers told me. I sighed. Maybe I’m too old for this campaign, I thought. It was already past my bedtime. But I dutifully climbed into the van with the rest of the group. A few minutes later, the van stopped. We piled out into the drizzle and I followed the feet of the person in front of me, picking my way around mud puddles in the darkness. We walked inside a gate, into a haze of herby smoke, and through a doorway into a bright yellow room. The room was warm and filled with music. The emcee and the DJ, Kuttin’ Keith (otherwise known as the healer). It was hard to take it all in at first. The […]
Like many newcomers, Vilakazi Street in Soweto was the first real tourist attraction I visited upon moving to Joburg. Here is the blog post I wrote about that visit, just a week after I arrived. (I’m a little embarrassed by the pictures and the words — I’ve come a long way since then.) Soweto — which is technically part of Joburg but really a city-state unto itself — is a legendary place, with a population larger than many small countries and a larger-then-life history to match. I live 20 minutes from Soweto and have been there many times over the years. I’ve done walking and cycling tours in Soweto. I’ve gone to concerts and art exhibitions in Soweto. I’ve participated in numerous instawalks in Soweto. I’ve done photography jobs and charity events, run races, and visited doll factories in Soweto. But I’ve never spent the night. So when I received an invite to be part of a social media campaign for the Soweto Wine Festival, I jumped on board. The festival is this weekend and I’ll be spending three full days sipping wine and participating in all kinds of exciting Soweto-based activities. The best thing about this weekend is that I get to stay […]
I’ve been invited to be a Gauteng Tourism Authority ambassador. I don’t think I’ve ever been an ambassador for anything before so this is pretty cool. It basically means that I get to do some fun things around Gauteng Province (the province where Joburg is) and tell you about them. So here goes. The first task of my ambassadorship was to visit Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers and take a cycle tour around Soweto, which is great because I’d been meaning to do this forever anyway. I feel like I don’t go to Soweto enough and this past weekend was the perfect time to go, as Nelson Mandela lived in Soweto and I was keen to see how people were celebrating his life there. Kids at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers.
A year ago, I wandered into a gallery in Joburg’s Maboneng Precinct and discovered a photo exhibition comparing Sowebo — a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) — to Soweto. I was surprised and excited to discover the Soweto/Sowebo exhibition. I grew up in the Baltimore suburbs and used to have family in Sowebo. But Sowebo is a small, obscure neighborhood and few people outside Baltimore know it exists. Who would think to do an exhibition like this in Joburg?
I’m interrupting my Namibia series for this important announcement: 2Summers has procured an iPhone. There are many secrets locked inside this mysterious machine that I have yet to discover. I don’t know how to activate the 3G, or to switch the ringer on from silent. But there is one thing I can say for certain: The camera works.
My first memory is of standing in the yard when I was about three years old, having my picture taken by my father. I spent hours in Dad’s basement darkroom, watching images come to life in trays of chemicals. We had slide shows in the living room every Sunday night. I’m a photographer’s daughter, and a childhood without photographs is unthinkable to me. But there are lots of kids in the world, especially around here, who have never had their picture taken. Help-Portrait is trying to change that. Help-Portrait recruits volunteer photographers to visit economically underprivileged communities, take pictures of kids (and adults) who live there, and then return later to deliver the prints to their subjects. For many of the recipients, this is the first photo of themselves that they’ve ever received.
On Wednesday morning, my friends Bing and Tein Po picked me up and took me with them to Soweto. We went to a part of Soweto called Zola, where we visited the cooperative that produces Shwe Shwe Poppis. A woman sews a Shwe Shwe Poppi. These funky poppis (an Afrikaans word for doll) have a fascinating story. The designs for Shwe Shwe Poppis are based on drawings by children from a crèche (daycare center) at the African Children’s Community Education and Feeding Scheme. Skilled craftspeople create the poppis using shwe shwe, a colorful cotton fabric used in African textiles. The dolls are sold all over the world; proceeds support the craftspeople and their communities.