We booked our first ever AirBnB Experience for Friday. It was called One Day in Soweto and was hosted by Sipho. If you recall, we had already met one Sipho in South Africa: our guide for our tour of Robben Island jail. This time, Sipho was younger.
We had arranged to meet at the Hector Pietersen museum and memorial. Sipho recognised us as soon as we parked the car and reassured us that someone would look after it until we got back. Another couple was joining us on the tour and they arrived dead on time for the noon start. Sipho started with an explanation of the circumstances of Hector Pietersen’s death, but then put the story into the context of the unchanged geography of the place where we were standing and walked us along to the point where Hector was actually shot, and where the first of an avenue of commemorative olive trees was planted by Nelson Mandela. We then walked down Vilakazi St, the street of two Nobel Prize winners. Nelson Mandela’s house is now a museum, but Desmond Tutu’s daughter still lives in the same house her father occupied.
At the end of Vilakazi St we climbed a small hill at the back of the houses which gave us an extensive view over Orlando West, which is the part of Soweto we were in, and Orlando East, which was our next stop.
We walked down and crossed the busy main road which divides the two Orlandos, named for Johannesburg’s mayor of 1925-6, Edwin Orlando Leake. As we crossed the main road, we spotted the commercial signwriters at work in the picture at the top of the page. There seems to be less graffiti in Soweto because blank concrete space is rented out for local businesses to paint advertising signs on. We then strolled uphill to our lunch spot: Nkukhu Box. Ishbel had chicken and pap with hot sauce, and I had a hot kota:
After lunch we continued our stroll. There are a lot of streetside vendors of both goods and services and we were particularly taken by this gentleman offering clothing repairs and alterations on the verge at a busy junction.
We tipped as we went for photos that we took. Sipho pointed out to us that, because of the areas we were visiting, locals were pleased to see tourists making the effort to visit. In fact, at one point, someone approached Sipho and asked if he could get his photo taken with Ishbel and me. He produced his mobile phone, handed it to Sipho, and put his arms around us. We all three grinned broadly and he went off happy with his snapshot of old white Sowetan tourists.
We continued our walk to the Orlando Stadium, home of the Orlando Pirates and the place where Nelson Mandela addressed the people of Soweto shortly after his release from captivity.
Orlando East is the home of the Orlando Pirates. Orlando West is the home of the Kaizer Chiefs – a football club long before they were a band.
From the stadium, it was time for a break from walking. For our next leg of the tour, we were taking a minibus taxi. These things are ubiquitous in South Africa and are used as a cost efficient way of getting from A to B. At least, they’re used by people who understand how the system works. There are a range of hand signals whereby you indicate where you want to go and the driver indicates where he is headed. You actually need to know in which direction your destination lies before you can even contemplate this. Luckily, Sipho knew that the relevant signal for us was pointing straight back over your shoulder, so we got the right minibus. This took us up to Bara, the area around the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the third largest hospital in the world.
It is also home to a frenetic market and what is probably the largest minibus taxi rank in the world. The couple who were with us on the tour decided to have an interesting chat with one of the vendors: a doctor of traditional African medicine. Declining the opportunity to acquire a potion that will provide a man with all-night vigour, they eventually bought some herbs which can be burnt together with chicken blood to enable communication with one’s ancestors. He was a robust Norwegian chap, so I’m not sure how his Viking ancestors would react to being summoned in such a way.
From the market, we continued our stroll heading down towards the Soweto Towers, the decommissioned chimneys of the Orlando Power Station which now act as giant advertising banners as well as a bungee jumping hotspot.
More importantly by this stage of the day, there is a bar at the base of the towers. We all welcomed a cold beer as we had walked a fair distance by this time and the day had been blisteringly hot. We could see some storm clouds in the distance but they didn’t trouble us as we relaxed over our drinks.
After quenching our thirst, it was a walk back up to Bara to the rush hour frenzy of the minibus taxis going everywhere across the city – and beyond. There were minibuses, with luggage trailers, headed for Zimbabwe and Lesotho among other places. We managed to get on the second taxi to arrive and went back to the start point at the museum. Although advertised as a four and a half hour experience, we had been on the go for a full six hours. And we had loved every single minute of it.
Sipho has an insta account that you could check out if you want to see more of what he does. I’d recommend it, and I’d recommend his tour if you find yourself in this part of the world.
All that remained for us was the easy drive home. Except, remember those storm clouds I mentioned earlier? About halfway home, I heard a loud clunk on the roof of the car. Followed by several thousand more. We got caught driving in an outrageous summer hailstorm. We tried to follow the example of a number of other cars and pull onto the verge under the shelter of the trees. Except I somehow contrived to miss the trees entirely. I decided it was abating after a couple of minutes and got back on the road. It had turned out that the other couple on the tour were staying at an AirBnB just along the road from us so we had driven them back to their place before heading home and parking up for the night. The thunder and lightning continued throughout the entire night.