After exploring South Africa’s Eastern Cape, I fly to the province of Gauteng, to the sprawling city of Johannesburg.
In the 1880s, the discovery of minerals sparked a gold rush in the area, forming the town of Joburg, now South Africa’s largest city.
At its heart is the township of Soweto, a neighborhood that mirrors the country’s tumultuous yet triumphant history.
Together with my new friend Lungile, we went on a tuk-tuk ride to explore the township.
Densely populated and mostly underdeveloped, it is the country’s largest urban complex, with a rich political history.
Despite the palpable poverty, you will find the locals waving hello at every visitor.
“We are taught here you must say hello. We say in Soweto, ‘why [do] you respect the god you have never seen and disrespect the gods and goddesses you see everyday?’ So if I say hello to you, I respect you,” Lungile explains.
The township was created for the black population during the time of apartheid– a system of racial segregation implemented by the white minority in power, lasting for about 50 years.
As we drove, Lungile tells me,“These are the communities are unfortunately still bear the scars of apartheid.”
I learned that Soweto residents became instrumental in the campaigns to overthrow the apartheid system.
We stopped by a memorial in the middle of the town.
“Who is Hector Pieterson?”
“Mr. Joy, Hector Pieterson is the young kid in the picture there, the one being carried. A 12-year-old kid who was unfortunately shot and killed in1976 during the Soweto uprising.”
The peaceful demonstration staged by Soweto students was met by police brutality, captured in this historic photograph.
The disturbing image put international pressure on the abolishment of the apartheid system, a turning point in the nation’s history.
From here, our tuk-tuk turned just a block away to a bustling intersection. This is perhaps the most famous street in all of Joburg.
Vilakazi Street is home to not just one, but two Nobel Peace Prize Winners – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and South African president Nelson Mandela, both key figures in the anti-apartheid movement.
I made my way to house number 8115, which was the home of Nelson Mandela for many years.
Mandela spent about 28 years in prison for his efforts to end apartheid.
When he was freed in 1990, this is the house he went home to, one that he shared with his second wife, Winnie.
Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994, becoming the country’s first black president, putting an end to minority rule.
A visit to Soweto is a long, hard look at South Africa’s struggle, and a glimpse into its people’s soul – one that any visitor should not miss.