“Oh, I’ll be heading to Soweto with the Our Friends team this weekend.”
“What! Soweto?! I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
It was quite interesting to experience people’s perceptions of Soweto before Our Friends ventured to Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers. Many told us it was unsafe and a very bad idea to go to Soweto, but we had a different understanding of where we were going. We knew that Soweto is experiencing a creative revival and we wanted to check it out.
We began our journey early on Saturday morning, arriving at Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers for the 10am bicycle tour. We were booked onto the 2-hour tour of Soweto, one of Johannesburg’s safest residential areas, and toured with Lebo himself. We learnt a wealth of history about Soweto. My favourite parts of the tour happened when Lebo addressed many of the problems we’re facing now with the history behind them. You’ll be able to understand the context behind comments and questions that you’ve had floating around in your mind like:
- “Apartheid is over, I can’t find a job because of stupid B.E.E. Why do I have to suffer because of it?”
- “I can’t understand xenophobia in this country.”
- “Why are those people so violent? Why do they like burning things?”
- “They just want to kill Afrikaners.”
I think a lot of South Africans need to understand the context of the problems that we’re dealing with. I actually think everyone should go on this bicycle tour and listen to Lebo speak. Some of the highlights on the tour were listening to Antoinette Sithole, the sister of Hector Pieterson, speak about the 1976 Soweto Uprisings and enjoying Umqombothi and Mageu at the end of the tour. I will add that you need to be moderately fit to manage on the tour because of all the ups and ups but the tour is definitely worth the experience. People from all over the world come to experience it.
We spent the afternoon enjoying a delicious lunch which consisted of either pap or bread, for a bunny chow, with choice of a chicken masala, beef curry or vegetarian curry and beef sausages. This allowed us to rest under the trees that had been planted in the community picnic area and park that made up part of Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers. Eventually, we ventured away from the back packers and checked out a nearby shebeen which had the Orlando Pirates vs Kaiser Chiefs game on view. It was quite the derby and we enjoyed the game with everyone that was there.
We went back to the back packers at sunset and had an incredible braai dinner, many dropped drinks and rounds of 30 Seconds. We were able to meet many people that had just come to hang out in the area.
Breakfast the next day was another wonderful affair. Try the magwinyas (vetkoeks) with your breakfast. In order to get the full experience of staying in Orlando West, I recommend doing the bicycle tour of which there are 2-, 4- and 8-hour tours and staying over for the night. A 2-hour tour (R350, with the overnight guest discount, otherwise it’s R430) and accommodation (R160), will set you back R510 but will give you a new perspective on Soweto and your country.
We shot two sets of photos. I shot the digital images and Paddy captured a clever set of film images. I’d like to thank Maria, Lebo and their incredible team for their warm hearts and incredible hospitality. I also love that Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers is changing its surrounding community with skateboarding and tree-planting initiatives. This experience was great! Lebo’s Soweto Back Packers is one of the best hostels I have ever been to, and certainly the most fun.
- Website: http://www.sowetobackpackers.com/
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Address: 10823A Pooe Street, Orlando West, Soweto