Monday, September 29, 2008

Unlikely Tourist in Soweto Part I

I'm not sure where to begin, I sit here comfortably in my luxurious Cape Town hotel room. I was just mildly annoyed that my hotel room over looks the parking lot and that instead of the room we made a reservation for we got a room in the back corner. I spent the day on an airplane, drinking sparkling lemonade and eating terrible airplane food.

It was up until I started writing this post, I was annoyed that I was spending all this money to be 20+ jet hours from home only to deal with the smug deputy general manager of this hotel.

At the Winchester

Then I realized that yesterday I took a tour of the poorest most disadvantaged place on earth.

The day before I paid our guide coordinator, Robert 3 000 Rand (~375 USD), for Jess and I to tour the famous Soweto township. We also paid 3 000 Rand for our day trip to see wild animals in Pilanesburg. A voice inside my head (that sounded just like my mom) thought there was probably a less expensive tour, another voice said I make more than enough to afford this.

At the Watering Hole

The day started with our tour guide showing up late. Of course it was only because our first tour guide didn't show up. That was the best bit of luck. Our new guide, Sonny Boy, was a young black man from Pretoria who now lives in the Soweto township. His mother was an educator and an administrator, and it showed. Sonny was versed with Soweto's history and its world-shaping events.

Sonny Boy

We started with a quick tour of the city center. Up until then, we were told that the city center was strictly off limits to anyone who was not black. While we were there this was, for the most part true; I saw a total of three white people during our entire time downtown. Still I didn't feel terribly out of place, and the populace didn't bat an eye at the white girl and the asian kid with the 300mm snapping shots while cruising through the mall. I suppose I was just another tourist.

Ad Hoc

The first stop was the Top of Africa. The largest concrete structure in South Africa, it sports 50 floors and claims to be the tallest building in the country. From the top you can get a bird's eye view of the city center. It's from up there you can see why some try to compare downtown Joburg to New York. But that's most likely due to what it looks like from 50 floors up; far from the race of life bustling below.

West from the Top

To the south west, monstrous mine dumps separate the city from the township of Soweto.


Much like the attitudes that lead to the inception of the township, the mine dumps separate the city from Soweto, and serve as much a physical barrier as a conceptual one, from here the poverty stricken shanties of the township are all but invisible.