Botswana / Namibia:
Cultural Sojourn

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Johannesburg & Soweto
(Prologue or Epilogue)

  Johannesburg (South Africa)  is not part of the Botswana / Namibia Cultural Sojourn Program, but everyone on this tour, and it is highly likely that most others doing the program, will pass through Johannesburg before and/or after the tour. In consideration of this we are including accounts of a visit to the Apartheid Museum and a Soweto Bicycle Tour, that are worth consider as you pass through.

Apartheid Museum

Apparheid Museum, JohannesburgApparheid Museum, Johannesburg First, the Apartheid Museum is vastly more than  any narrow topic of Apartheid.  It engagingly covers South Africa before, during and after Apartheid.  Second, the architecture of the building, the flow of the exhibits and the quality of the exhibition are profound and sublime.  Third, the content and depth of the exhibit are too much to absorb in one visit.  During our two and a half hour stay, we spent two-hours on the first half of the exhibit and pretty much exhausted our capacity to absorb for the day.  The depth, detail and emotional content of the history enhances its power to overwhelm.  For the last half our of our stay we basically walked past the second half of the exhibit numb.  It is certainly worth another visit.  Photos aren't allowed in the exhibit halls, so all that can be shared is shots of the exterior.

A partial list of the galleries is: Classification; Segregation; Sharpeville Massacre and the turn to violence; Life under apartheid; Life on the mines; The homelands and the rise of black consciousness; Political executions and detention without trial; Solitary confinement; The student uprisings of 1976; The 1980s -- total onslaught and mass resistance; Sanctions and international solidarity; Mandela's release; The National Peace Accord and the Bill of Rights; The transition to democracy; 1994 Elections; The Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and, The miracle and beyond.

Soweto Bicycle Tour

Soweto Bicycle Tour, JohannesburgTraditional beer, Shebeen, Soweto, JohannesburgTo be clear, the Soweto Bicycle Tour is a different intensity of bicycle tour from a Ibike tour (in the course of four-hours it covers maybe eight to ten kilometers), but its focus on the diversity and complexity of the area visited is very similar.  To say that Soweto has a complex history and socio-economic make-up is an understatement.  It has everything from minimalist housing without indoor plumbing to neighborhoods that could be dropped seamlessly into Beverly Hills, California. There are informal markets and shops, tack shops, shebeens, take-away restaurants, fancy restaurants and malls.

Vegetable market, Soweto, Johannesburg Barber shop, Soweto, Johannesburg Tack shop, Soweto, Johannesburg Take Away restaurant, Soweto, Johannesburg Mandela Family Store, Soweto, Johannesburg Restaurant, Soweto, Johannesburg Supermarket, Soweto, Johannesburg Main arterial, Soweto, Johannesburg

Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and a number of notable artists and musicians have houses there.

Mandela House, Soweto, Johannesburg Desmond Tutu house, Soweto, Johannesburg Artist's house, Soweto, Johannesburg Upper class house, Soweto, Johannesburg

boy in Soweto, JohannesburgThe history is fascinating because almost nothing was part of a master plan; a neighborhood would be built, and at a later date another neighborhood with a totally different character would rise nearby, and then a government housing scheme with one philosophy of amenity and ownership would be implemented, only to see the strategy change later and another government housing scheme would be built with a totally different approach to amenities, infrastructure and ownership.  This was interspersed with the occupation of vacant land by squatters.  The first large settlements in the area date to 1918.  The name Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship) wasn't officially adopted until 1963.  It covered the scattered neighborhoods, communities and townships over a 150 km2 (57.9 sq mi) area. Details of the history are presented during the tour, but it is difficult to follow and mentally organize.  It would help if the guide provided a visual aid like a color coded map to help track the names of all of the neighborhoods and the year that they were built.

housing on street with hostels, Soweto, Johannesburg Hostel, Soweto, Johannesburg house with front garden, Soweto, Johannesburg multi-family housing under construction, Soweto, Johannesburg middle class housing, Soweto, Johannesburg upper class housing, Soweto, Johannesburg middle class housing, Soweto, Johannesburg Beverly Hills neighborhood, Soweto, Johannesburg

Commuter train, Soweto, Johannesburghighway, Soweto, JohannesburgDuring the apartheid period, Soweto was largely the housing for the Johannesburg Black labor pool.  There continues to be construction of new single family and multi-family housing in Soweto.  It is now consider a fairly desirable place to live. A common way to get to work was by commuter train, which were packed and fairly dangerous.  These have now been supplemented by a new bus rapid transit system.  With its new affluence there are an increasing number of private automobiles coming out of Soweto on to the every expanding garrote of highways engulfing Johannesburg.

old power plant and cooling towers, Soweto, Johannesburgcooling towers, Soweto, JohannesburgThe cooling towers for the old coal fired power plant have an interesting story.  When it was in operation the power plant produced electricity for White Johannesburg, but polluted Black Soweto.  Eventually the local citizens forced the power plant to close and Soweto is a healthier and cleaner place to live.  The towers have now become an iconic piece of art and there is a platform between the two towers from which you can bungee jump.




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