Not seen on TV: The Soweto Bicycle Tour

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“Does anyone have any great ideas for what we can do for a year end function? Sindi – how about Soweto? You can show us around. We’ve never been to Soweto!”
Ummm… cue awkward moment.

Dear my white friends and other black people that don’t speak vernac: not all black people are from Soweto…  In fact to many, Soweto is ‘As seen on TV’ to a whole lot of people.

My pillar also known as my grandmother lives and has lived in Chiawelo since I was born so I am fortunate enough to have spent every school holiday, long weekend and childhood “getaway” in Soweto. In many ways, 1348 (pronounced thirteen-fourty-eight) is second home to me. I repeat, home, not a year end venue…

I must admit that though the question left me with a sour taste, it actually made me curious. That if I had to take my colleagues to Soweto, I probably wouldnt know any cool places to show them. I mean, the only parts of Soweto I know is Chiawelo, a little bit of Protea and maybe Orlando East, not the Soweto they’re talking about. Don’t judge me – do you know how many people from Rustenburg have never been to Sun City? Hello people who stay in Fourways rarely visit Monte Casino…

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The ‘Year-end-function-Soweto’ has never matched my experience of the place. Neither better nor worse, just different. For starters, that Soweto has white people…

In all the times that I’ve been in Chiawelo, I may have seen 1 white person there and not much has changed. The children still stare when there’s white person around (kind of like what the Thai did to me in Phuket). Because I’m a liker of things I was on a mission… I was going to make an effort to experience this other Soweto. I had to discover this Soweto I see on TV for myself because it’s certainly not everywhere…. certainly not most of Soweto.

Lol so what did I do? I booked a Soweto Bicycle tour…

Lol what respectable black South African from Johannesburg with a grandmother in Soweto, goes on a Soweto Bicycle Tour? These things are designed for tourists to make them feel like they riding in Mandela shoes. Nevermind that, a friend once joked with me saying:

“…black people don’t ride bikes for fun, its transport!”

Hahaha, after that I felt a little guilty but I wasn’t backing down from this mission.

Well for starters, the guys running the tour actually didn’t know how to interact with us so we had to get the language barrier out the way. “Its cool guys, we understand English, Yes… we are South African.” Then we needed to re-learn how to ride a bike lol! “Yes… we drive.” [Hahaha cheese! I’m kidding… relax]

The tour starts off at Hector Pieterson Museum and no matter how well you know the story of the June 16 Youth uprisings, it still gets to you. They’ve planted trees along the “firing line” from the museum to nearest school which basically shows you were these students were standing when the apartheid cops started shooting at them… (sigh). I see histroy repeating itself…

The fountain, the trees, the stories engraved on the “tombs” … its real. Noteworthy and a learning curve for each of us..

Aawww Dynamite Diepkloof Duddette!

Soweto Cycle Tours

On a lighter note, after going through the museum we chova’d through the streets, up to the train station where you get a great view of Joburg’s very own Beverly Hills. Yes its called Beverly Hills.

Oh! Then we stopped for die-ice. The orange one. Heaven! (Not included in the standard tour – that just comes with looking like the locals).

Quick breakdown:

die-ice (noun): drink-o-pop mixed with too little water. Frozen in a clear packet. Giving children in the township a sugar rush since the early 1900s (1800s whatever). Usually sold through the butler proof or over the fence. : Everyone is friends with Neo because they sell die-ice at her house.  

  The rest of the tour was pretty standard. Bo Mam’Thembu’s corner houses; Presbyterian churches with the mamas in their gray and white attire; bo Malume chilling on dining room chairs in the driveway… you know how it goes.

The cycle tour ends off on Vilakazi Street when your thighs are burning and you don’t look so cute anymore. Then one of the guides makes you sing (a song I had never heard in my life) outside Desmond Tutu’s former house. I was too tired to take in the moment by then. In fact, I was more concerned with who was home…. (yep that’s me – the nosy neighbour). Finally, we ended up at The Mandela house. Well… you not suppose to say anything bad about Madiba’s legacy (he also has a B-Hive)  but somehow I don’t think Mandela and I would have the same bedding from the Woolworth’s quality sales last year #nuffsaid

 

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The squad: cousins who grew up visiting Soweto with me and the my cheesiest friend. Location – Vilakazi Street.

1-0 to thirteen-fourty-eight on authenticity!

Lastly, we went back to the museum for Kota’s before we retreated back to the burbs. All in all, it was a nice experience – I would go back… with a car. But as far as Soweto goes: I prefer my long-weekend/ getaway version to the year-end-function venue. Chiawelo may not have concepts developed by strategists for hours, or draw in tourists from around the globe but its home. It is still African.

Not seen on TV.

That’s what makes it beautiful.

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