By Kalungi Kabuye
It was the fourth and last day of our stay in Johannesburg, and that day would also be the final day of the Africa Fashion Week in Pretoria.
It had been a hectic three days, what with all the sight-seeing, and then the frantic drive to Pretoria for the Fashion Week and then the four plus hours of standing while taking pictures – I was kind of glad it was ending, exciting as it had been.
But we had a free morning that day and it was planned we would go visit and tour the famous Soweto.
Predictably, two of the journalists we were with didn’t make it, one disappeared after breakfast and couldn’t be found, and they had both switched off their phones because they were afraid of incurring roaming charges, in spite of us assuring them there were none.
South African designer Bongiwe Walaza at the finale of the African Fashion Week
One later claimed he had gone to the Business Centre to check his e-mail and forgot the time. Sounded legit, but why would he do that when he had free Wi-Fi in his room?
Another one, the lady, decided it was a great time to go to the shopping mall and buy another blouse. So we went without them.
I’ve been to Soweto a few times, but not for a while, and it had changed. The guide said it all had to do with the 2010 World Cup.
It looked a lot more prosperous place, a lot cleaner, and we went to a stretch which supposedly has more millionaires per mile than any other place in Africa. In Soweto? No kidding?
Inside wandies Restaurant in Soweto
The original Mandela home is a must visit, and we found our way there. The first time I had visited that home, it was only the small original house, before the Museum had been built.
Now it was all different, and commerce had taken over. All kinds of trinkets were on sale, and there was a large Mandela Family Restaurant just above the house. We were told it belonged to Winnie Mandela.
During one of my earlier visits to Johannesburg, we had gone for a lunch at a Wandies Place in the middle of Soweto. It was quite a memorable experience, as we met people from all over the world.
It is a tradition that whoever eats at Wandies leaves something on the walls. There are thousands of business cards pasted on the walls, and currency notes from all over the world.
Journalists in Soweto
During that earlier visit I had left my business card, and wanted to see if it was still there. That time I had also bought a souvenir t-shirt which some unkind person had taken off me, so I wanted another one.
But sadly the Wandies we found this time was nothing like the one we saw the first time. It was almost deserted, and none of the staff could remember if they had ever seen souvenir t-shirts on sale. Although the thousands of business cards were still on the walls, I couldn’t find mine.
Time was running out on us, so we dashed over the Orlando Power Station, a former coal plant which now serves as a tourist attraction of sorts.
According to our guide, the station produced a lot of pollution when it was operative during the apartheid days, which would affect the townships, but the electricity generated would go to the mostly white part of Johannesburg.
Now the two cooling towers are an art mural, and people bungee jump from a platform between the towers.
From there it was time for a picnic lunch at the Botanical Gardens, after which was a quick dash back to the hotel to change and then the last drive to Pretoria for the finale of the Africa Fashion Week.
We had thought that after the show we could go to a place like a club and hang out a bit. But it seemed everyone was tired, and by the time we had bought food at a KFC outlet in Pretoria and driven back to the 54 on Bath hotel in Rosebank, it was na-night for everyone else.
I stayed a bit in the lobby and had a few beers, but I also soon called it a night, because the next day we were flying to Durban, that jewel on the eastern coast of South Africa.
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Return to South Africa part II: discovering Soweto