Soweto is an urban black settlement in the city of Johannesburg. On June 16th 1976, around 15,000 black students from Soweto began a peaceful march to protest against the enforced use Afrikaans instead of English in schools.
The first shot at this group of children was fired by Colonel Kleingeld, the first person to fall was Hastings Ndlovu followed by a 12yr old Hector Pieterson. This photograph taken of Hector being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo with Antoinette Pieterson (17) running alongside was captured by Sam Nzima.
It made headlines all over the world and since has been a symbol against police brutality.
(click to enlarge)
As tension between students and police escalated, emergency clinics overflowed with bodies of injured children. Heavily armed police on armoured vehicles patrolled the streets of Soweto day and night, shooting indiscriminately, helicopters scanned the area from above and even the armed forces were put on stand by. The government reported 23 casualties. Reuters claims that atleast 500 people were killed and thousands of men, women and children injured. It was a terrifying display of state repression.
Soweto will never let itself forget the terrible riots of 1976.The impact of which, reverberated throughout the world and put Soweto on the political map. The scars still remain, from the bullet holes still present in the Soweto church building to the memorial built in honour of Hector Pieterson. The church is also the abode of the Black Madonna .
Inspite of this Soweto has much to boast about. It is home to 2 Noble Prize winners who grew up on the same street, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and to the Grammy Award winning Soweto choir for its fabulous Gospel Music.
Apart from the historical and political contexts there was another reason I bulldozed a very reluctant trio to accompany me to Soweto.
For the past few days all we had been exposed to was a very European lifestyle. The government rest houses in Kruger at Satara were like 5 start resorts compared to our humble Indian circuit houses and forest bungalows and the Private Game Lodge at Kapama was the last word in living in style in the bush. One could lie in a hot bath and look out at the vast expanse of forest and if lucky see herd of imphalas grazing and one did!
The food and wine itself would take up a post by itself. Imagine being in the middle of the African forest watching the incredible sunset and sipping sundowners.
Being Indian with a strong suspicion against tap water embedded in our minds, buying bottled water proved to be as expensive as a glass of wine. So to keep from dehydrating it made more sense to sustain myself on the endless choices of light beers and wine available . I can say in all honesty that we consumed far far more alcohol in that trip than water.
The only signs of civilization were neat houses and small towns spaced far apart and away from the roads. I often wondered what these people did with themselves with nothing in the middle of nowhere.
It seemed a very cold and lonely place. I yearned to see black culture. I had always imagined Africa to be a colourful land, with warm people, very alive and exuberant. Hence the bullying it took to get people to Soweto, and I was not disappointed. Finally we saw life out there on streets. Markets, stalls, people getting their hair braided on the streets, countless hair salons, all hoarding advertising only beer, and shocking pink coloured buildings!
Finally out of the bush with access to T.V and newspapers, I realized how primitive their media is, in content. The top stories were mostly aimed at being tear jerkers about mothers and babies. The TV shows were African versions of the Bold and Beautiful or about crime and reform. The extent of impact petty crime has in an average South African citizen’s life is shocking.
A trip to South Africa is seldom complete without visiting the cultural village Lesedi, where you experience the traditions of the Basotho, Ndebele, Pedi, Xhosa and Zulu people, followed by this dinner.
Nyama Choma --- Succulent dishes from the 4 corners of the African Continent
Nyamazane - Wild Vension
Ngwenya - Tasty Crocodile
Imifino - Bush Vegetables
Intshe - Ostrich Meat
Izithelo - Tropical Fruit
Maduma Ezinqueni -Beans that Thunder the Buttocks.
The Greatest African Feast !!!
My last night was spent playing the Marimba with 2 other guys on the freezing street while people actually stopped to listen, inspite of the cold!