Ever been to a place that brims with so much culture and beauty that you find yourself overwhelmed but you can’t quite get enough? Well, if you answered “yes”, then maybe you’ve been to South Africa.
I had the pleasure of spending nine days in the “Rainbow Nation” and during that time I visited three wonderful and distinctly different cities: Johannesburg, Hazeyview, and Cape Town.
Our first stop was the bustling city of Johannesburg, located in the eastern half of the country. Many know this city as the place where Nelson Mandela began his adult life, raising a young family and becoming interested in politics. Soweto, a township in Johannesburg, is credited with being the site of some of the most important anti- apartheid demonstrations. The city has such an inspiring history that one is forever changed after visiting. During our three-day tour, we visited so many spectacular sites! As soon as we landed, we hired a driver and we’re whisked off to the Cradle of Humankind the museum showcases artifacts that support the theory that human life began in Africa. A cast of the oldest human remains are on display at the museum along with many of the earliest remains ever discovered. There are also tours of the caves where the remains were found. Unfortunately, the caves were closed following several weeks of torrential rains. If you would like to see the caves, call in advance to ensure that they are open to the public at that time. Despite not seeing the caves, the museum was well worth the visit!
The following day was devoted to exploring South Africa’s more recent past. It was only roughly 25 years ago that former South African President, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years for organizing against the apartheid regime. At the beginning of the day, we visited the humble home that Mr. Mandela shared with his second wife Mrs Winnie Mandela prior to his arrest in 1968. The five room home constructed with bright red bricks is now the Mandela House Museum. Visitors have the opportunity to view Mr. Mandela personal belongings such as his honorary degrees and letters exchanged between the pair during his unjust incarceration. Aside from the beautiful plaques behind clear glass cases along the walls, there were more sobering details that reminded me of how difficult life was for the Mandela family and all families who opposed the government. On the exterior walls, our tour guide pointed out several bullet holes and fire damage markings. He later explained that during Mr. Mandela’s incarceration, Mrs. Winnie Mandela was persecuted by police daily. Their house was burned down by officials twice and police regularly fired bullets at the home to scare Winnie and her children into moving away. Being there and reading Mr. Mandela’s biography inspired me to learn more about Winnie Mandela’s contributions and sacrifices for the anti-apartheid movement.
From there, we visited the Hector Pieterson Museum. The museum tells the chilling story of the uprisings that started in Soweto in 1976 and spread across the country. On June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson and his classmates, along with children from several other townships left school and marched in protest against unfair education policies. Over 150 children perished during what began as a peaceful protest: twelve-year-old Hector Pieterson ,was the first to be gunned down by police. The museum stands as a testament to the courage of even the youngest South African fighters in the anti-apartheid movement. We also visited the Apartheid Museum which is a must see. Like the Hector Pieterson Museum, this museum provides a multisensory experience. One of the things that I really appreciated was the fact that the museum curators included an exhibit highlighting what was going on in other places in the world during the most gruesome apartheid events. It demonstrated for me that we must be more knowledgeable about what is happening in the world around us.
I must admit, visiting so many places related to the atrocities of apartheid in one day was overwhelming. You many want to visit each site on a different day or take a break and decompress over a great lunch between visits.
Speaking of food, South Africa is touted as having one of the best culinary scenes in the world, so we wasted no time jumping fork first! On our first night, we dined at Moyo in the upscale Melrose Arch community. Despite Moyo being a local chain, we were delighted by the depth of the menu. The restaurant offers traditional South African food with a modern twist. With a delightful mix of game meats and traditional Indian dishes it was a great fusion of the influences all of the people of South Africa have had on the cuisine. For example, my husband had the Springbok which is apart of the antelope family with mashed potatoes and a traditional African red sauce, while our other companions enjoyed ostrich and other exotic meats.
For dessert we had everything from traditional puddings to hand churned ice creams.
Needless to say, we left full but hungry for more great culinary adventures.
We had an amazing time in Johannesburg. Then it was off to Hazeyview for a spectacular day a Kruger Park !
Be on the lookout for Part II (Fun and “Game”: Kruger Park and the South African Countryside)