Joburg – Soweto – USA v. Slovenia

June 24, 2010

We took off to Johannesburg the next day and in a quick hour flight, landed back in the city we first arrived to. We were greeted by our host for the day, a bubbly Greek immigrant who was to be our guide to Soweto and the Apartheid museum.  We climbed in her old VW van/wagon and took off for the Southwest Townships (SoWeTo) to visit the area where blacks were relocated during Apartheid. I thought I knew what I was getting into, that I was somewhat prepared for what I was going to see, because I had seen photos and TV specials on the area. To be frank, I don’t think anyone is.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Walking into squatter community in Soweto

You think you have an idea of what these people live in day to day, but until you see it, you have no clue. We arrived at the entrance to one of these squatter communities, which are made up of about 20,000 people, and immediately I had to choke back tears. We were greeted there by our somewhat toothless guide, who also lives in this community. He makes his living off of giving tours to wide-eyed tourists like us, hoping to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live like these people. As far as your eye can see – nothing but dirt, scrap metal, old signs, cardboard boxes, plastic sheets – people’s homes, no more than 100 square feet each and home to up to 5 or 6 people. There is no electricity in any of the shacks, no running water and

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

One plot within the community, about 5-6 homes here.

hardly any privacy. Groups of between 4-7 shacks share a “courtyard” which consists of a dirt plot where laundry is hanging to dry after being washed in a tub and children are playing together. Each of these groups share one toilet that was just recently put in by the city. Several children followed us and talked to us during the visit, most sort of conditioned to ask certain questions and then for money. We were told not to give them any money, as they are trying to teach them not to beg. I spoke with two beautiful teenagers who attend school down the road, walking there and back each day. One wants to be a gynecologist and one a police officer, both hoping to better the lives for women after them.

Child in Soweto Township

Child in Soweto

We learned that about 80% of the people living in the community were unemployed, however most of them are out on the streets everyday, not begging, but looking for work – anything from a day job to something regular. Unfortunately, the language barrier seems to be a big inhibitor to these people finding jobs and holding them. We visited one woman’s home who was preparing hot water for her laundry from a little gas heater – they have to buy gas about twice a month – while carrying her baby on her back and trying to clean her tiny home. I gave her 100Rand in hopes to help her buy more gas to heat her home as it was very cold in Joburg those few days.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Woman in her home doing laundry

Next we ventured to Nelson Mandela’s home to see the neighborhood he lived in before and slightly after his imprisonment. From there, we went to the Apartheid museum. When you enter, you are given a card to designate whether you are “White” or “Non-White” which also designates which entrance you take. I could go on and on about the museaum, but to sum it up: we spent 4 hours in the museum and had to skip by exhibits towards the end. It was a humbling experience that actually made me feel ashamed of my skin color and so incredibly appalled that this happened only a few years ago. To think that South Africa has only been a democracy for 16 years is hard to fathom – meaning that being such a young country in that respect, it will still be a few generations before the racism isn’t as apparent.

Long story short, if you have the opportunity to visit Soweto and Apartheid, absolutely do it. Just be prepared for the emotions it will bring up and also be sure you designate enough time so you can thoroughly experience the museum.

I can’t even begin to describe our crappy accomodations in Joburg, yuck. We stayed in a guesthouse that was NOTHING like it said it was online. I guess we had been spoiled the past few nights with great places so we were probably little bias, however this place was like some weird old house that someone threw some beds in so they could make money off tourists for the cup. Our room had no heat, and since Joburg was the coldest it has almost ever been, it was not very fun. We met up with Dave’s friend of a friend who lives in Joburg, and she picked us up to go to Melrose Arch for dinner and to watch some matches. Melrose Arch is an upscale complex of hotels, restaurants, pubs, stores, etc., similar to a giant shopping complex you’d see in the States. We had dinner outside under heatlamps (thankfully) at a place called the Meat Company. We all had great steaks and an awesome bottle of wine (Rupert & Rothschild) and fried Haloumi cheese (a staple here). Dave’s friend Alan – a commentator for ESPN – met up with us and we stopped in a pub called JB’s for drinks as well. We had a great night all hanging together, then back to our crappy little room to sleep (and for the record, wore beanies and sweats to bed!).

USA v. Slovenia, World Cup 2010 South Africa

Us and our Slovenian friends before the match

June 18th was the day of our USA v. Slovenia match so we slept in a bit then met up with Dave’s friend Brody and his friend Aaron to get ready for the game. Wodey and Mackerer met up with us and we all drove down to the park-n-walk which was in a slightly sketchy part of town but with all the people, it was great. We instantly met two Slovenian guys, Frank and France (yep) who we hung out with the rest of the day. Walking down the street, we came upon a Nursery School that was selling beer and sausages to raise money for the school so OF COURSE we had to stop.

Dave and I before USA v. Slovenia match, South Africa

Dave and I drinking beers to support the school

Soon after, it became overrun with USA supporters and everyone was drinking and hanging out and playing on the junglegyms – I’ll never forget that experience (especially high-fiving the kids in the schoolroom). We

USA v. Slovenia match, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

Good times...GO USA!

walked to the game at Ellis Park and got our seats (second row from the top of the stadium) for a great game. US and Slovenia tied, with our last goal an unfortunate BAD CALL. We stopped back at the school for a few more beers then headed back to bed.

The next day, June 19th, we took off to Pretoria, less than an hour north of Joburg. A much more affluent town, our guesthouse was beautiful and we hung there for a bit in the backyard bbq spot with some beers before heading down to Hatfield Square for some drinks at the Springbok Bar on our way to watch the Denmark v. Cameroon match at the Pretoria Stadium. The bar was a typical rugby spot with the chairs bolted to the floor so they couldn’t be thrown. After a few beers and a “Springbok” shot (some sort of Bailey’s liquor and a minty green liquor) we headed to the stadium. The logistics of this stadium were way less planned out then the others, with thousands of people funneling through tiny entrances. Again, our seats were a few rows from the top, but the game was fun to watch all the same. We hoped for Cameroon to win, but Denmark squeezed by 2-1. Exiting the stadium was just as horrible, however we were slightly entertained by two drunk Danish men – one falling over the seats and spilling his beer all over, then not being able to get up, and the second who fell over and dropped his pants then couldn’t figure out how to get them up. Gotta love it.

We woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and our guesthouse host John drove us to the airport in his minivan. It’s interesting how many people you see walking to their jobs, right on the side of the highway. Most of them I believe don’t have transportation and being that it was freezing out (-2 Celcius) I felt bad being in a semi-warm minivan. The Lanseria airport is tiny, just like Nelspruit, with one terminal. It’s funny that here they just say “We are now boarding” and everyone just lines up, no groups or zones or rows. We boarded our Kulula flight (Kulula is a great airline, very tongue and cheek kind of like a little bolder Southwest) which had “This Side Up” painted on the side of the aircraft ha. After a nice nap on the plane, we arrived in Cape Town two hours later.

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