by Debbie Ross
founder of the Womens Travel Network.ca
Johannesburg is home to 54 million people, 80% black, 8% coloured, 9 % white and 3% Indian. This city has a very different feel from Capetown.
Our day began at Constitution Hill, formerly a fort which was turned into a prison. The Old Fort Prison complex is known as Number Four. The original prison was built to house white male prisoners in 1892 and later extended to include “native” cells, called Section 4 and Section 5, and, in 1907, a women’s section was added. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Both political activists opposed to apartheid and common criminals were held at the prison. Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned here in 1906, and striking white mineworkers in 1907, 1913 and 1922. This is now the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The first court session in the new building at this location was held in February 2004. Entrance into the building is through large doors with the bill of rights carved in various languages. In front of the doors is the eternal flame of democracy. There hallway is a gallery which displays carvings and paintings that each tell a story. An impressive carving made from one piece of wood and life size paintings by women suffering with aids. In the courtroom the only symbols are animal skins from local tribes.
The city centre is a mix of low rise art deco style buildings, highg rises and local street markets.
Our next stop was the extraordinarily powerful Apartheid Museum, documenting the historical passage from the early peoples of South Africa to the birth of democracy in the nation. It’s a very graphic experience; the intensity of sounds and powerful images effectively evokes the suffering of life under apartheid and brings relevance to the people we met on our journey. We were fortunate to have Darryl guide us through the building explaining the exhibits and sharing his personal experience of growing up in Johannesburg and experiencing Apartheid first hand. Unfortunately cameras were not permitted in the museum.
We then travelled to Soweto, We soaked up the sights, sounds and feel of Africa at close quarters, visiting the Baragwatnath area and enjoyed a home cooked meal at Chez Alina. This local restaurant is owned by Alina, an enterprising woman that has turned her small home into a restaurant. The food was declious. Afterwards we were treated to a dance and drumming performed by a group of local youths. Alina allows them to perform in front of her home, the children receive donations. This group of boys are orphans that are being raised by relatives. The money they collect during their performance helps to support them. They were charming and entertaining, The local children gathered around to watch the show too.
As we continue our tour of Johannesburg we passed by the famous soccer stadium where Nelson Mandela gave his election victory speech in 1994, Then again in 2010 where he made his last public appearance at the Fifa world cup.
Our next stop was the Hector Pieterson Memorial commemorating the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid. The sit is a few blocks from where 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot in 1976.
Our tour ended with a visit of the Mandela Family Museum to see the multi media displays, photographs and memorabilia.
Dinner this evening at The Meat Company at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg
Accommodation: Sandton Sun Hotel, Johannesburg