Travellers' Impressions
Stories & Articles from around the World

Sawubona Soweto (Hello Soweto)
by Jonas Persson

Today is Saturday and it’s been a well-needed day off from the zoo project. Instead Katie and I seized the opportunity to find out more about South African history. To our great fortune, we had a magnificent tour guide with us, Mr. Frans Riet, in charge of horticulture at the Johannesburg Zoo, and who’s been living in Soweto, Johannesburg, under the oppression of the apartheid, since the early 1970’s. Our first stop was at Museum Africa in Newtown (previously the Indian market, but renamed after the end of the apartheid- as so many neighbourhoods and streets were). What we saw here was just a preview of the dark history of South Africa, a history that makes you feel ashamed to the very bone for being part of the white European culture, and its inheritance.

Next stop was the Apartheid Museum, which was huge. We spent around three hours there, but it would probably take a full day to really see it all, and much longer than that to be able to take it all in. As we left I felt totally exhausted. It’s just so incredibly draining as you want to take in, and fully understand the severity of the cruelty and mistreatment of an entire people (or actually more than a dozen different populations counting all nine clans, the Indians, the Chinese etc.).

As the final lesson in today’s lesson of the behaviour of mankind, Frans took us to his home in Soweto. Soweto is an abbreviation of South West Township, and was created during the apartheid to confine the black people of Johannesburg to a specific area. More than two million people live and Soweto, and it was the center of the ANC and the black resistance during apartheid. In Soweto you can see tin shaft after tin shaft, and the poverty is striking. But, poverty aside, it is clear that a large part of the people living in Soweto is proud of it, and wants to show everyone willing to come that Soweto is a happy, sparkling place full of life and energy. Despite so many reasons for anger and hate, the people of Soweto are remarkably friendly. Besides showing us his home, and introducing us to his youngest son, Frans also showed us some of the main sites and took us to dinner and Wandie’s Place, the most well known restaurant in Soweto, and finally a chance for Katie and I to try some real South African food.

All and all, this has been a very educating day, as well as exhausting, and since we’ve been invited to go with Frans to his home church early tomorrow morning, I suppose it’s time for bed.

Copyright © Jonas Persson 2005

Read by Andrew Hunt

Play Audio Version