(Travel Journalism Student Article)
Today was a swirl of emotions, one moment we were questioning if humanity is a lost hope and the next we were inspired to change the world. Our first destination was the Apartheid Museum which showed us a country torn apart by ignorance and united by voices of the revolution. We read the words dense with hatred about the color of another man's skin. We burned our eyes with images of injustice and brutality between whites and blacks during the fight for equality.
“I really enjoyed the pictures in the museum because it made me feel like I was actually there and could relate,” Emilee remarked. Through all of the pain and suffering that haunted the halls, above it all rang the voices of Nelson Mandela, known to the people as Madiba (filler of ditches). As we ventured into the time of hope, truth and reconciliation in the museum the girls quickly gathered up their spirits and we left having faith in a bright future for South Africa.
To see where where this bright future began we then visited Kliptown, Soweto where the Freedom Charter was created. This area is significant to the people of South Africa because the Freedom Charter was the great united front against the apartheid government and became the basis for the current constitution.
As we stood on top of the bridge we could clearly see the town divided in two by a railroad, but it is hard to imagine the two sides have any relation to each other at all. One side of the tracks is the typical urban city, but once we crossed to the other side our surroundings transformed into what people here fear, the slums. People will often tell you to steer clear of these poverty stricken areas, so naturally we were nervous to be parading down their streets, a spectacle to them all. We kept our heads high and our minds open with the words of Nelson Mandela stuck in our minds: “I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear, but triumph over it.”
Our guide, Jabo, lead us into the small town, where plastic bags appear to be sprouting from the ground instead of grass and children skipped across the littered ground barefoot. A variety of music echoed out of the doorways of the tin shacks. The clothes stained red by the dust dangled from the barbed wire fences. “Something that really struck me was that everyone was so happy and friendly, the kids were all out playing.” Natalie recalled. “It's definitely something our communities back home often lack." Jabo explained they have no infrastructure, sanitation, schools, hospitals, things we consider essential, but they put the most emphasis on mentality. The people here had learned how to look for the light even when they were lost in the darkness.
Within Kliptown we visited Soweto Kliptown Youth (SKY), an organization started by a man named Brother Bob 26 years ago. It was established to provide a safe place for kids who may not have one. Up to 200 children may be at SKY a day and 45 of those live there permanently. Most no longer have parents or a safe home environment and have been affected by HIV.
As we walked through the small rooms we had children hanging on our arms or seated on our hips, radiating with joy and excitement. Brother Bob explained they were on their fifth day without food, but he assured us “it is better to be full in the mind than full in the stomach.”
We gathered around a small stage they had created to watch the SKY children and teens perform. The show began with a few boys silently acting out things they see in their town everyday; drugs, drinking and gambling until a man comes along and shows them the light. The boys break into a dance with complex footwork and perfect synchronization. Later they astounded us by creating their own music by clapping and slapping their gumboots, a technique used by generations before them to communicate while working in the diamond and gold mines in South Africa. Girls joined in singing a harmonious chorus and a traditional dance; a passionate combination of body and soul.
When the performance was over we sat with Brother Bob to discuss challenges in their lives and how they overcome them. He showed us the blessing in hardship and how he never let his head fall. “We can live without money but we can't live without love,” he told us. No matter what the topic was he was able to put a positive spin on it and the words danced off his tongue in a way so beautiful it brought tears to our eyes. As we left Kliptown, we felt our eyes were truly open and we were inspired to make a difference.
Tonight as we go to bed we remember what Jabo taught us and say “today I enjoyed life.”
Below are two pictures of the Orlando Towers in Soweto. Both towers are painted, one functioning as an advertising billboard and the other containing the largest mural painting in South Africa. The towers are also used for bungee and BASE jumping from a platform between the top of the two towers as well as a bungee swing into one of the towers. Orlando Power Station is a decommissioned coal fired power station in Soweto, South Africa. The power station was commissioned at the end of the Second World War and served Johannesburg for over 50 years.