Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Francois Ghanem: Jo'burg - The Tale of Two Cities

Our hotel was located in Sandton - in the vicinity of Nelson Mandela Square.  Within easy reach were up-scale restaurants and shopping such as a Gucci store in a big shopping arcade.
The area also had professional buildings, international banking offices and the South African stock exchange.  A highly polished area that offers a glimpse into potential!  From conversations I had - Sandton is a well to do and a highly desirable area that many aspire to work and live in.

We spent a day visiting Soweto and the Apartheid museum.  So much history and to peek at that history is so fascinating and highly disturbing at the same time.  Seeing uniformed and smiling school children at the Pieterson museum learning about and absorbing a critical period in South African history was touching and filled with emotion.

As we visited different parts of Soweto we began to get a basic understanding of the history and the toll it took (and arguably continues to) on so many.  We gained an appreciation that Soweto in more than a neighbourhood.  It was and continues to be a crucible of history in the making and contains a strata of people from Winnie Mandela to recently migrated people from other parts of Africa.  Neighbourhood areas ranged from the "Beverly Hills of Soweto" to flood prone metal shacks without water and electricity.
What is striking are conversations with"Born Frees" and older ones of many backgrounds and races.  The common theme: a better future in peace and security.  Indeed is that not what all of humanity is seeking?

Speaking of humanity - we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site - the cradle of humanity.  We only visited the visitor's centre (not the caves).  Admittedly, I have some fundamental questions about the timelines and theories presented.  However,  as an attraction - the site was mediocre, at best (as compared to other world heritage sites we visited).  At times, in my view, the site ventured into the cheesy realm.  Case in point: a boat ride reminiscent of Disney's "Its a small world" boat ride. 

We also visited the Lesedi Cultural Centre. The centre is intended to provide an introduction to the various peoples of South Africa.  Some may argue that the whole experience is touristy and staged.  I would not dispute that.  However, the experience was informative and entertaining.  The dance demonstrations were great!  Lunch at Lesedi consisted of a buffet of African dishes.  An ample selection was available, but the quality was adequate.

Earlier in the trip I tried a Kudu steak.  At Lesedi at one of the tour stops they offered cooked mopani worms in sauce.  Much to our host's surprise (and subsequent delight) I tried the worms.  I would eat them again.  And - no - they don't taste like chicken.

There you have it - a brief look at our very limited experience in Jo'burg.  It is a big city but one we found fascinating, friendly and filled with hope and potential.  A city that tells many tales with a common thread.

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