What happened in Jo'berg...

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Kenya 2006


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Back packing is big business in South Africa with a great little guide book to hand everybody raves about, called “Coast to Coast”.  It’s what a ‘Rough Guide’ or ‘Lonely Planet’ should be like.  That tied in with a much raved about bus service called the “Baz Bus” it makes planning in SA a bit easier and safer.


Our first SA stop was Jo’berg, after the very long flight from Hong Kong we arrived into the airport very early in the morning.  So after the usual grab of leaflets we tried to sort out a place to stay.  We had read the city centre really is a ‘NO GO’ area and most people stay in the suburbs.  We phoned up so many places to find them all booked up in all sorts of suburbs.  Not long after that one of the local hostels actually found us.  From doing their daily airport runs etc they saw us at the phones and did their pitch.  We had heard the location was a good one so we said yes and jumped in the car with them.


Basically it was a big house with pool, tennis courts etc and apart from the normal rooms they had turned a couple of the big rooms into dorms.  Not long after being there you could see the couple running the place lived their lives on drugs!  They were a real comedy of errors and would spend most of the time looking for each other in the house or forgetting where they had left something like the car keys etc. 


The area was supposed to be a good area, but the hostel was placed behind high walls, razor wire topped with an electric fence!  Hmm safe in your own prison.  We ventured out one way to a huge great mall and then the other way to another shopping complex and went on many a run in the sunshine.  In all that time we never saw a white person walking on the streets, only blacks.  We saw lots of white’s driving fast in their Merc’s and BMW’s from their enclosed amazing house prisons to safe car parks and shopping areas.  What a way to  live!!!


Being that we had booked to do a safari from our next stop Durban we didn’t have too much to do here apart from stay safe and do the recommended must do tour that takes you to the legendary ‘township’ of Soweto.  More on that below and with a couple of spare days in our prison we did plenty of our trip website updates…


To summarise what you can say about this place that’s nice?  Oh yeah the weather was good!   Most people come to Jo’berg to then go onto a safari in the Kruger national park, which just to let you know may be a small flight away or at least 7hrs by road.  It sure is probably the best way to see Jo’berg and a lot safer being with wild animals than being in the city area…  Also people believe it’s cheap here.  Not any more!  Prices more on the lines like Oz and NZ and they don’t really have a safe public transport system which means that taxi prices are very expensive…  Next is a flight into Durban.

















Painted coolers in Jo'berg

Hector Pieterson Museum











































Soweto Camp

Soweto Camp

Soweto Camp



Just to let you know where you are!

Soweto Township





Here we go, notorious Soweto has been in the news for years as it’s so intrinsically linked to the recent history of South Africa, but it is one of the must do’s in the Jo’berg area.  The hostel said they arranged trips so we took up the offer.  The pick up started late due to the guys who should be picking us up had been involved in a car crash and had to get the police involved to make sure the person who’s fault it was would sign to agree to that!


The two guys doing the tour were a black version of little and large, now driving a beaten up old BMW, but they sure knew their stuff on the city and actually lived in Soweto themselves.  From our supposedly safe area we headed into Jo’berg city centre.  By all accounts it used to be a lovely city 20 years ago, now most of the businesses have moved out and it is very run down with gangs of people around on street corners.  It was more like something from the Bronx in the US in the 70’s.  Glad we were with a couple of homey’s!  They even joked with us that the number plate for Jo’berg starts with GP or as it’s locally known “Gangsters Paradise”.


The guides knew everybody which made it feel a lot safer.  We were really shown all parts of Soweto, the richer parts as well as the poor.  As we first drove into the township, we were shown normal, really nice houses with NO security walls/devices etc.  But as the boys said “you don’t cause trouble or shit on your own doorstep” as they still operate a lynch mob technique to sort out the trouble makers.


The nice houses soon passed then you see this huge township of shanty houses for miles and miles.  If you can really call them houses – they are basically tin shacks built out of scrap pieces of corrugated iron and wood. To give you some numbers in one area alone there is 7-10K homeless with no plumbing and only 250 porta loo’s for them ALL to share.  They are all waiting for new homes to be built by the government.  Would you believe they have been waiting 12 years as well!


The guides dropped us off at this area for a local lad to take us down one of the dirt tracks into the camp and into a couple of houses.  Scary to think even what little they had they still secured with razor wire.  You could see the houses high up on the 12 year wait list as they had bar codes on them.  The amazing thing was the guide was still so positive about being on the waiting list and appeared to have no anger at having to wait for new housing for so long. I think the situation during Apartheid would probably have been much worse so this was seen as an improvement.  Having said that, leaving the camp area really made our stomachs turn with all sorts of emotion and anger at a badly run country that is still suffering from old Apartheid rule when the country as a whole is a rich nation…!!!


Next stop was the Hector Pieterson Museum in the heart of Soweto, which did an amazing job of documenting the terrible troubles in 1976.  This is when the peaceful student demonstration against the introduction of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools resulted in the death of many students at the hands of the police, 13 year old Hector Pieterson famously being the first to be shot.  It was really moving.  We then moved onto our stop for lunch which was quite bizarre, as down one end of the road was Nelson Mandela’s old house and next to the small restaurant was Bishop Desmond Tu Tu’s house, meaning this is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners have lived.  This is where we saw the one and only big tour coach, which really looked out of place and they do the tour all by driving by and looking out the windows.


Being over that way we asked the guys to drop us off at the Apartheid Museum just outside of Soweto.  What an incredible museum, a must visit in Jo’berg.  We were there for a few hours, but it’s a huge place and many people spend a day here.  It’s set up really well to give a true unbiased opinion about all the troubles South Africa is known for and really brings to light how very recent it all is…  And so much of it is still in evidence in many places which is the sad part.  It really was a great day trip with really knowledgeable guides and a highlight of SA for us…



Apartheid Museum

Soweto housing camp kindergarten


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