Early start to day: collected by Theo at 8-30 for our tour of the city.
We started off looking at some of the districts while he explained about how the city had been divided up during apartheid . We began in the area inhabited by wealthy white communities. Boy what houses! Extremely large, very elegant and protected by high walls and razor wire. Even now many have security guards and monitored alarms outside. Apparently the problem is less about crime and more about status these days. It seemed quite ironic that one of these mansions was the retirement home of Nelson Mandela and is now owned by his grandchildren. Out side the walls are a number of small gardens, each covered with small stones containing messages of thanks and good wishes for what he had done. We saw less affluent areas too including areas left by Europeans when apartheid was coming to an end. Large buildings and businesses were left abandoned as people left. Some of these are now occupied by immigrants from other parts of Africa, especially from Nigeria, people who have rather a bad reputation in the city because of their involvement in drugs etc. Theo called it the most dangerous part of the city these days. It was certainly the most dirty as street traders seemed to abandon their rubbish at the end of trading and collections were not very regular.
We saw business centres, magistrates courts and the offices that had once belonged to the law firm of Tambo and Mandela! There is a real range of architecture here and many of the buildings are beautiful. Of course there are many signs of influence from other cultures with easily recognisable food chains widely represented.
The most interesting and thought provoking part of our tour was to Constitution Hill a former prison and military fort. Here was evidence of the turbulent past of the country and the determination to safeguard the rights of citizens in the future through the Constitutional Court built on this site and with some of the bricks from the original prison. Our guide, Brenda, was from Soweto and was very enthusiastic about her countries history and it’s hopes for the future, ever striving to achieve democracy for everyone. This was a place of great brutality and the de humanising treatment of people against people. Thousands of ordinary people found themselves imprisoned there for no reason, were badly treated and them released with our trial. There was much evidence of mans inhumanity to man in the cells, the torture implements and even in such basis lack of provisions and sanitation. Epidemics killed people here as well and poor treatment. Many famous prisoners were held here - Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu, Fatima Meer -to name a few. All were treated in the same way. Mandela was apparently imprisoned in the section of the prison reserved for white males as there was concern he would be the focus of unrest. From here he was sent to Robin Island, were he remained for 26 years. This was a very sobering place but the determination voiced by Brenda for the future hopes of the country was quite up lifting. Next to the courthouse was another symbol of hope - the Great African Steps, again made from the bricks of the old prison where you can ‘ walk on the past, towards the future’. An interesting thought. Our last stopping point on the tour was to the Top of Africa a 50 floor tower built into one of the earliest shopping malls in Jo’burg which gave amazing views right over the city. An apt end to the tour, except that it was right next to the 5* Carlton Hotel was closed because of the crime rate in the area. Although there is apparently talk of it reopening.
Back to our lovely hotel for lunch in the garden accompanied by the sound of water fountains. So relaxing.
Late afternoon was spent exploring the shopping mall next door and the interesting collection of pavement cafes and restaurants near by. There is quite a lot of work going on in this area and tourism is expanding. This will soon be an even greater place to visit.Read more