South Africa - Johannesburg
22nd of August 2018.
En route to the Southern part of Jo-burg: the historical township of Soweto. Historical because during apartheid, the government created the ‘all-black’ settlements as part of their racist ruling. Therefore it has a rich history of political un-just and poverty, but also of immense and wonderful creative and musical expression: Soweto music being one of the most celebrated genres from South Africa.
It took a 15 minute Uber from the centre of Jo-burg, and on the ride towards, shanty towns stretched as far as the eye could see. Metal shacks no bigger than most westerners bathrooms. Certainly too hot in the summer, and I’d imagine too cold in the winter.
Upon entering the centre road - Vilakazi Street, I exited the taxi to be immediately greeted by the usual flock of locals offering various things for local currency. It was here I was treated to a performance: a five part harmony in amazing Soweto fashion complete with rhythmic clapping and body slapping. Impressive I handed over the destined amount, and in happiness they sung again and said we may take a video if we pleased. As an ethnomusicologist I leaped at the chance and shot a small segment of their welcome song. I then handed them a little more, for the talent was totally worth it.
It didn’t end there. We arrived as light was thinning, the assumed hoard of tourists slimmed to simply us thus we became prime bate and became bombarded by locals attempting (poorly) the same singing act they witnessed us enjoying. Alternatively offering a variety of imaginative things that might earn them money. Sadly at this point I had really given all my change to the lucky harmonic fellows - whom I still believe deserved it from their fabulously rehearsed compositions.
This barricade of humans made it difficult to walk the main street and look at the remaining stalls. We paused outside the iconic ‘Mandela House’ - although perhaps relieved it was closed - we had visited the Apartheid Museum and really had our fill of all things Mandela.
A little further down the street, merely one block on the opposite corner stood Desmond Tutu’s house. Again we didn’t get too close as the entrance was closed anyway at this time, and the fear of being haggled by the homeless overcame and we retreated into a café. After a delicious cocktail we attempted to explore a little more, but after 5 feet my companion had lost all remaining money in his wallet to an efficient beggar who asked to swap 70 pence in English money for all the South African contents of his wallet.
After this we decided perhaps in the darkness, there really is no-where to safely explore among the un-lite shanti streets, we decided we should remain in the confinements of the bar, and perhaps exploring further would require a tour guide.
Disappointing a little, but not really. It was to be expected, one can’t turn up in a shanty town and expect easy access to whatever we want to see. Still, my very being in the historically rich area, had an energy and a warmth well worth visiting, and I’ll forever be grateful I had the opportunity to step foot there at all. Every time I listen to Soweto vinyl, the warmth of their air will come to me again.