Wednesday 31 August 2016

Black and white

Nzima is a very emphatic sort of person. Not to say startlingly loud, when there were just the two of us in the minivan for our half-day Springbok Atlas tour of Joburg. But that was ok, there was no danger of jetlag making us dozy – not that anyone would be likely to nod off on a tour of Soweto, anyway.
Soweto = South West Township, about half an hour or so from our clubby hotel by the Stock Exchange, but in another country in practical terms. It was hard not to be thinking in Jewish terms today, specifically ghetto and Holocaust – the stories of segregation and apartheid, and the awful things that happened within living (ie my) memory. We were taken to see the long rows of basic miners’ accommodation, one shower/tap/toilet for 40 rooms. They were luxury compared with Kliptown, where rusty tin shacks, their roofs held on with stones, were huddled together, cut through by winding dirt paths leading to the tap. It’s a remnant now, most of these hovels having been replaced by 4-room houses, and occupied by people waiting for their own relocations. It’s a slow business.
There are some startling contrasts in Soweto. Some of the suburbs are neat and pleasant, a few even with gardens; but then, right across the road, more hovels surrounded by epic mounds of litter. There’s a golf club, and a huge hospital, and football stadiums. And then there are the Orlando Towers, colourfully painted now but once pumping out toxic pollution from the coal-fired power plant that supplied electricity to Joburg – but not to Soweto. Now, there’s a bungy jump operation strung between them.
And, people, everywhere! Walking, standing, squatting, selling stuff from stalls, fruit in neat pyramids, or services like head-shaving underneath a pergola; or carrying loads on their heads, or mending things, or just loitering – unemployment is 26% in South Africa, so there’s a lot of time-filling to be done.

We went to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. He was a 12 year-old boy shot by police in the 1976 protests against the forced teaching of Afrikaans that went wrong, a symbol of oppression and overreaction. Then we went, via Nelson Mandela's house, to the excellent Apartheid Museum and things got even more serious. It's an uncomfortable place to be white in, and full of ugly facts that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase 'museum guilt'. And, unexpectedly, some understanding of what it is to be German. 
With thanks to Adventure World for this tailor-made holiday.

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