Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Johannesburg, South Africa

We got in to Johannesburg in the afternoon and I promptly collapsed in bed until dinner. Unfortunately I had developed some stomach issues in Nelspruit and they followed me to Johannesburg then back to the United States. We wanted to see two things before going home and I had just enough energy to do that but not much else, including taking pictures.

Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum (official website, Wikipedia). Visitors are randomly assigned a race and then segregated for the first part of the museum. The remaining museum displays print, audio and video materials from anti apartheid groups in chronological order. The most interesting part is the later full color videos of brutal police responses to protests.

Our next stop was Soweto, an abbreviation of South West Townships, one of the most controversial areas in South Africa. In 1948 when the National Party gained power and began to implement Apartheid, forcing many black Africans from their homes to the townships in Soweto. During Apartheid Soweto was home to some of the most famous resistance movements and leaders like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Since Apartheid has ended there has been a great deal of development within certain parts of Soweto such that there are now large houses with well manicured lawns. In other areas the original, state built, one room houses remain and homeowners rent closet sized, zinc shacks in their yards to newly arrived residents or temporary workers.

One sign of progress in Soweto was electrical wires strung between houses. Unfortunately the state power company, Eskom, was not prepared for the increased demand from Soweto and other former townships and has introduced rolling blackouts to ease the strains on the system. When we were in Johannesburg the blackouts were scheduled from 8:00PM to 12:00PM - which meant very dark dinners and no activities afterwards.

We came back to the hostel from Soweto and ran a few errands before packing our backpacks one last time. The routine of packing and heading to the airport was so familiar by now that neither Ellie or I could believe we were actually heading home. The 19 hour flight from JoBurg to Washington, Dulles didn't even seem to be out of the ordinary. Both Ellie and I stopped to chuckle for a moment when our response to "Countries visited prior to entering the US" was longer than the space provided on the immigration form.

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