After breakfast in our hotel, we met our group at the entrance gate to our Fairlawn’s Hotel for our day touring around Johannesburg. The day would be broken up into two halves; with the morning tour visiting Soweto and an AMA Waterways-Sponsored village, while the afternoon would be a visit to the Apartheid Museum or a shopping spree, or like me and several others, simply a relaxing afternoon back at the hotel after a really busy touring schedule the last couple weeks. We’ve been on the go daily on this trip, so I was looking forward to some down time, while another couple from our trip was looking forward to the hotel spa. While Steve (DOS) of course wanted to go shopping in the afternoon.
We boarded the tour bus with our guide AMA Waterways guide Delia, and headed out to Soweto.
Soweto is a large almost exclusively black populated suburb of Johannesburg. It has been the site of several resistance movements over the years as a result of apartheid and unrest, and today has a population of nearly 1.3 million, according to Wikipedia.
You can read the statistics regarding the race, languages spoken (all 11 official South African languages are spoken here), history etc on the Wikipedia link. Our tour guide Delia had previously spoken candidly about the races in South Africa, describing White, Black, and Colored, which you will see listed as races on the Wikipedia link under statistics. Delia told us in the United States, ‘Colored’ is considered a derogatory term, while in Africa it is not at all; it’s simply a descriptive term of your family’s lineage. Delia described herself as ‘Colored’, which in the States we would probably mean is ‘mixed’, meaning a White Father or Mother, and a parent of another race. Speaking of race in descriptive terms such as these did not have the politically correct stigma it does in the States, and it was not even an issue when describing someone’s appearance; it’s simply a descriptive term.
As we rode along on the bus, we were given a brief history of Johannesburg and the effect the apartheid movement has had (and still does) on the city and country. Unfortunately the unemployment rate in South Africa is at 28 per cent, and the uncertainty over the future and high crime has driven many businesses from the former downtown area to the suburbs. It was sad seeing men waiting in line or rushing to a pick-up van in hopes of getting a day job somewhere.
Our tour group AMA Waterways is very conscious of the environment and communities we visit, and normally sponsors the local community in some way, usually education and assistance for children. We saw this last year in Cambodia when we went to a school AMA sponsors, and were so impressed we donated as well. Today we stopped at a small, and ultra-poor village in Soweto, AMA sponsors. When we first pulled up to the end of the street, I think everyone on the bus must have thought, ‘Is it safe to get out here’ – as we really stood out as obvious outsiders, and the trash-lined streets reminded us we weren’t back in our wealthy Sandton suburbs.
No worries, though, AMA had arranged for one of the village leaders to escort us thru the town and village, and show us around their community. I don’t recall his name, but he was very open about the life and conditions, but not in a depressing way – actually uplifting as he described work the school is doing; providing opportunity for those fortunate enough to attend.
As we walked down the dirt road past the bridge, we soon realized just how incredibly poor this village really was.
Likewise, there is no running water, so the residents go to one of seven watering spouts to get water. The make-shift houses were very primitive with mostly metal siding serving as a roof, if that.
As we walked along, we saw the daily live of the village residents, before reaching the school yard. The school was a separate area of the village, and had several buildings including an administrative office, computer lab, kitchen/dining area, and even a small building where we would see a dance performance of some of the students.
Below are several volunteer students from other cities and countries who are working onsite at the school for a year or so, in this case assisting with the meals and nutrition planning and cooking.
We also had a mini performance by some of the student artists who put on a song and dance show for us in their theater.
After touring the computer lab, kitchen, and watching the song and dance performance, we walked further along towards the elementary school. We bought a couple caps ant t-shirts as a donation for the school, as well as to promote it. The school is called the Kliptown Youth Program, or K.Y.P. for short, as shown on our caps as we stand in front of the sign. You can learn more about K.Y.P. and/or make a donation on the link above.
While the school is free, the students must buy their supplies and uniforms, and show a willingness to learn and succeed. They don’t tolerate those unwilling to learn, as the space and resources are limited. Here is a poster of some recent graduates this year.
Once we reached the elementary/kindergarten school area, we were ‘ambushed’ by a bunch of adorable children. These kids literally ran up to us and hugged us around our legs, not wanting to let go. Steve (DOS) and I, and the others in our group spent quite a bit of time talking with the kids and taking photos, being sure to show them their photos on the iPhone.
This little girls stole my heart with their smiles, and the girl on the right flashed me the peace sign. Oh, the beauty and innocence of these adorable children! I said a prayer for them and the others, and still do.
As we eventually made our way back to the bus, we were humbled to have visited the K.Y.P. school and village, and our hopes and prayers are for their future success in life.
We said goodbye to our village guide, and next headed on to visit the former home of Nelson Mandela. You can read more on his life struggles, imprisonment, accomplishments, and ultimately as the first President of South Africa here, as written in Wikipedia. Here are some photos of the house today, which is now a museum.
After touring the Mandela house, we went to a ‘local’ restaurant nearby in Soweto. While not exactly my favorite restaurant, it had a ‘local-style’ buffet with chicken, rice, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t care for. The restaurant even played some Jimmy Buffet type music, which seemed a bit out of place in far-away Africa! Still with complimentary beer or wine, it made for a fun meal with our group.
And after finishing lunch, we were soon on our way back to our Johannesburg hotel, The Fairlawns, where I had a relaxing afternoon, while DOS went shopping.
The blog continues next with our last night in Johannesburg.