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. 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 […]
I was talking on the phone with a friend this morning. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something to the effect of, “I thought things would feel better once we moved to Level 3. But instead they feel worse.” Yes. Exactly. Two-and-a-half months ago, on 24 March, I decided to start this Lockdown Journal. My idea was that each day I would write about whatever was on my mind related to the COVID-19 lockdown, for as long as the lockdown lasted. Today, for the first time since I started, I’m hesitant to share how I really feel because I’m just so despondent and I don’t want to freak all of you out or bring you down with me. At the beginning of lockdown, we all cheerfully ended conversations with sentences like: “See you when this whole thing is over,” or “Looking forward to meeting for coffee as soon as lockdown ends,” or “Can’t wait until we can have a drink together again!” These sentences became the new COVID-19-era pleasantries. Nearly 70 days later I’m still exchanging these pleasantries, but with a lot less breeziness and enthusiasm. Because: 1) Except for visiting each other at home (which logically […]
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 […]
Last weekend the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsored 13 walking tours all over the city as part of an initiative called #JoziWalks. The weekend was meant to encourage Joburgers to get out of their cars and engage with urban communities in ways they might not do otherwise. Kids in the Soweto suburb of Noordgesig. #JoziWalks was an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve been on many walking tours in Johannesburg but #JoziWalks offered tours in places I’d never been, and the tours were free. The only bad part was most of the tours happened concurrently and I had to make agonizing choices over which ones to participate in. I eventually settled on a Saturday morning tour of La Rochelle, a suburb in the south of Joburg known for its Portuguese culture, and a Sunday tour of Noordgesig, a suburb on the edge of Soweto that played a big role in the anti-apartheid struggle. #JoziWalks La Rochelle Our tour of La Rochelle was led by Judith Muindisi of Tsica Heritage Consultants and Calvin Montgomery of the Southern Suburbs Heritage Society. La Rochelle, just south of the city center, is best known for Parreirinha, Joburg’s most famous Portuguese restaurant. I myself had only been to […]
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.
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.