Since I last posted I’ve been in Durban for the Indaba Tourism Conference from 10-12 May, Mamatsi’s daughter Xoli with me, testing our Tour idea, for which we had positive responses. While there we stayed in Umlazi with Mamatsi’s cousin Tuli who’s a High School Principal in Kwa-Mashu, North of the city. It was a different Durban experience for me because previously I’d stayed with relatives on the South Coast. Umlazi isn’t a conventional Township because residents there were able to build their own homes, the area where Tuli stays is ‘suburban,’ and her house is a modern single story 3 bedroom home. It’s on a hill, about 5 miles from the coast, surrounded by pretty hills and valleys. Tuli looked after us well and made our stay very enjoyable. Palestinians have a saying, ‘Your house is my house,’ with Tuli and Mamatsi I’ve felt like I’m at home.
Before I left Durban I spent 2 nights with friends from Johannesburg who lived in the home where I grew up. I just had a rest with Hilary and Mervyn, I’d been tired after the Conference, needing a break before I returned to Soweto. I had some time before catching the Johannesburg flight on 14 May so drove West of Pietermaritzburg to the Mandela Capture site which commemorates his arrest in 1962 after he returned to South Africa and has his most recent statue. The setting reminded me very much of Hampstead Heath, where statues by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore fit in very well with their environment. I found the place very similar with where Robert Sobukwe, the 1960 Pan-Africanist Congress leader is buried in Graf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, both surrounded by mountains, the Drakensberg here to the West, Winter is coming, the rains have ended so grass is golden brown in the sun and while I was there it was being burnt, with a smell reminding me of when I lived in South Africa previously.
I found the Site very atmospheric, with a road up to an informative temporary museum about a half mile from the Statue. There’s a path which descends first on grass and then for the last stretch on a brick path, with flower beds containing indigenous plants. The Statue has metal panels with Mandela’s image on them, and in the wind which was blowing they moved slightly. There’s only one point from where the image of Mandela’s head can be seen, I think it’s amazing. I’ll try attach a photo I took while there, see what you think.
Back in Soweto since 14 May I’ve continued to work on the Tour concept which I’ll describe later. On my first weekend back I visited my relatives Mike and Peggy who moved from the South Coast to Henley on Klip. It’s a small town South of Johannesburg. It’s on the Kliprivier, Henley refers to the Oxfordshire town on the Thames and the streets have names here come from the English town which I know quite well! We enjoyed ourselves catching up and visited 2 friends of my mother who live at, Randjeslaagte a very established Old People’s Village, in Johannesburg. I’d known of a family ‘secret’ about my paternal grandfather who died in the First World War Western front trenches in the German Army about which Mike reminded me. I may travel to Germany later this year and if I do I’ll try find out whether there are records.
Winter is now here, trees are losing their last leaves, with night temperatures reducing to about 5 Degrees Celsius. Mornings are cold, then temperatures rise to the mid 20’s in the day. I’ve started walking with Mamatsi at about 7am, across the valley North of Orlando smoke drifts on the slopes and sometimes there’s frost on the ground. There’s a type of bleakness in the environment, mixed with the beauty of the early morning sunshine. The environment here is degraded by pollution and a high population density. Taxis and cars drive very fast which make it hazardous for pedestrians and other road users, I’ve had to jump onto the pavements sometimes to avoid being hit. Roads are generally maintained but pavements where I am aren’t paved, since I’ve returned there’ve been no street lights on Xorile Street.
People here are poor, with unemployment levels around 40% and youth unemployment over 50%. . I’ve read a headline that 33% of South Africa’s citizens are affected by food insecurity which reflects very badly on the country. People make out because of informal employment, welfare payments and community support, however I think that not knowing where the next meal is coming from and no capacity to plan must blight lives. I feel uncomfortable here knowing the Mamatsi and her extended family live daily with the pressures of how to manage on the money they receive, while there’s always food for the children it’s the adults who have to manage on less.
Since I returned. Mamatsi had a diabetic crisis on 18 May and was admitted to hospital for a night and returned home the next evening. Mamatsi’s experience of Chris Hani Hospital was that medical care was good, patient care in her view was poor and certainly from my visit there the ward was very crowded. She was discharged without medication because the pharmacy was closed and her prescription had to be fetched the next day. WhiIe she was away I had to take on covering for her absence with the children, helped by Xoli which was a steep learning curve but somehow we managed! Mamatsi took about 3 days to recover fully at home and I supported her with the children, following their routines as best I could.
On Friday of last week I went into Town and went to the Art on Main Street Precinct where I really liked some recent etchings of trees by William Kentridge, a famous South African artist. On my way back to catch the bus 2 men in Council uniforms tried to stop me, one of them saying he had a gun and would shoot me if I didn’t give him money. Without thinking I shouted at him to leave me alone, brushed his arm away and ran to the bus stop around the corner. On reflection I think I realised instinctively these men were ‘just trying it on,’ assuming as a tourist I’d just do as they said. They didn’t chase me which suggested I was right, but afterwards I was shaken.
On Monday this week Xoli slipped at the local Clinic and had to be treated at Casualty where her foot was plastered and bandaged because she’d dislocated a bone. She was discharged without crutches and has had to borrow a crutch to be mobile. For me this shows how much pressure the Health Service faces, while treatment is good, once patients are discharged they can have problems.
I’ve realised that Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are zoned, with the ‘informal apartheid’ described in the ‘Where Now ANC’ book I read. The effect has been to restrict contact between the minority and affluent black communities living in suburbia with the majority of citizens who still live in rural poverty and urban townships. In Johannesburg most of the inner city has been occupied by new immigrants and rural migrants looking for work. Council services are almost non-existent, the building facades, streets and pavements are degraded, and unclean, really smelly.
In contrast there are areas like the Central Business District where high security makes it safe, streets are clean and hawkers have been cleared from the pavement. by robust action using the police and private security companies. I find it very uncomfortable that the security is there because of the inequalities which remain here. People here have to navigate between their homes and get to their destinations through unsafe areas which must be very frightening sometimes. Neither the security based approach nor reclaiming area policies address the main issue here which in my view is inequality. I find myself remembering Palestine, where Israelis and Palestinians are separated from each other. The ‘informal’ apartheid here is no different for those who still experience it after 20 years democracy. Over here it’s the ANC leadership who control a system which oppresses the majority of their supporters. Everyone had to adopt a position, my choice is to stay in Soweto where I feel more comfortable which can create problems with people from my community. Most of my relatives and friends I meet have no interest in visiting the townships or are frightened because of the violent reputations these areas still have.
While I’m an outsider, when I’m here I can choose to be with people I really admire and for our lives to touch briefly. I have positive ‘family type relationships’ beyond my children, mother, relatives and friends which includes Mamatsi, her extended family, foster children and friends. What is so different is that these relationships aren’t permeated by my childhood experiences which creates a positive potential because I can tell my story as I want it. I return to London very soon. I haven’t yet decided whether I want to work once I’m back and what work I want. The Soweto tour concept has developed in partnership with the June 16 Fellowship. I hope before I leave to have established a Cooperative and registered it as June 16 Soweto Heritage Trails, watch this space!
I plan to write a final post before I leave to reflect further on my experience here, referring to what I wrote when I’d just arrived.