I started off my Jozi sight-seeing by going with some friends to Maropeng (which means “returning to the place of origin” in Setswana and is the main indigenous language of the area) and the Sterkfontein caves which are both about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. The area is picturesque with koppies (rocky outcrops/hills) and broad expansive vistas over the grass plains – it is no wonder it is the wedding capital of Gauteng. Maropeng (also known as the cradle of humankind) is full of information on the evolution of humanity, the development of planet earth and houses some of the fossils that were discovered in the area.
We then went to the nearby Sterkfontein caves where scientists have discovered many hominid and other animal fossils, dating back more than 4-million years, to the birth of humanity. We were taken on a guided tour through the caves, at times crawling on all fours, and learnt about how the rock formations were developed and how fossils came to be preserved in the cave. There was also an underground river that has no plant/animal life and whose depth is unknown – a diver having lost his life while trying to find the bottom beyond 40m. I dispute the scientists’ conclusion that the river is lifeless and think that some crocodile-like prehistoric creature that lives in the cold, dark depths claimed the diver’s life.
I spent my next free Saturday in Soweto a township to the south of JHB. We started the day at Vilakazi street which was home to former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Nelson Mandela’s house contained some interesting artefacts including an apology from the State of Michigan for the CIA’s involvement in Nelson Mandela’s arrest because they viewed him as a potential communist threat. My friends were shocked that Winnie Mandela revealed the location of where her children and grandchildren’s umbilical cords were buried. Apparently it is tradition for an African elder female, such as a grandmother, to take the umbilical cords and bury them near their house so that the children will always be connected to their family, but it is meant to be a closely-guarded secret so that no one can find them and potentially dig them up.
We also visited the Hector Pieterson memorial and museum – which commemorates the protest action of thousands of high-school students in Soweto on 16th June, 1976. They were protesting against the apartheid government’s policy of forcing African students to be taught primarily in Afrikaans (and not their own language). Hector Pietersen, a 13 year old school boy, was shot and killed by police and the image of his lifeless body being carried by Mbuyisa Makhuba with Hector’s screaming sister running next to him has become the iconic photograph of the Soweto uprisings and has permanently associated his name with this event.
Jozi is a bustling and vibrant African city. It is definitely the hub of business and commerce in South Africa. It doesn’t have the natural beauty of Cape Town, but what it lacks in beauty, it makes up in personality.