Yesterday Trevor Tutu accompanied us on a tour of Soweto. We stopped and got off the bus to see what Trevor said was a direct result of apartheid. He pointed out poorly made brick hostels, the size of my room, in which eight men lived. They came to Johannesburg to work for eleven months of the year, leaving their wives and children at home. Their families could not come with them because Pass Laws controlled where individuals could live. Trevor Tutu explained that most of the men started new families in Johannesburg and the money they were supposed to send home was spent on these families leaving their other families destitute.
As we continued driving, Trevor pointed out the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere. He said to never go there unless you are extremely ill or have experienced severe physical trauma. Otherwise you will most likely catch another disease and die.
Our next stop was a taxi station in Soweto. As the only white people in the area, we received many looks. We had to brush off bargainers that seemed to follow us everywhere. We boarded the bus and continued. It wasn’t long before a bathroom stop was requested from the majority of our bus. This led us to our next, and my favorite, stop of the day.
We followed the signs that read “toilets” but they led us to the locked gates of a closed museum. Disappointed, we trekked on. We were looking for the nearest bathroom, when we heard the sound of violins nearby. We peered through the fence and noticed several school children around the age of five playing violin in front of their teacher and other students. Ward turned around and gave us ‘the look’, meaning, “this is why we’re here, let’s go.” We filed through the gate to see the cutest kids, complete with braids and zig-zagged cornrows.
When the kids finished playing a song, our class quickly ganged up on Nicole to convince her to play something on violin. She finally agreed and played the most perfect piece without even warming up. My classmates and I were in shock, but nothing compared to the look on the school children’s faces when she began playing.
After the music, our class proceeded to sing Circle of Life for them, and once again we got looks that confirmed that the first few lines do not translate into any language we have found.
I left the school filled with joy and the simple pleasure of how wonderful things can ‘just happen’. If it hadn’t been for full bladders and one closed bathroom that lead us around the corner, we would have never had this experience. This has become one of the themes of our African journey. We never know what will happen next.
Today we went on a tour of the township of Soweto with Trevor Tutu, son of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Soweto is arguably the most famous township in South Africa. It is where the fight to end Apartheid reached its boiling point and it holds many memories of jubilation and triumph, as well as pain and sorrow. On the 16th of June, 1976, hundreds of students took to the streets and began to march and protest for the end of Apartheid. They had become frustrated by the lack of progress and decided to take matters into their own hands. Police soon arrived to squelch the crowd but the angry students were not to be deterred.
They advanced on the police, chanting slogans and throwing anything they could find at the police. Quickly abandoning the use of tear gas and billy clubs, the police began firing into the crowd. Hundreds of students were wounded or killed, including 12 year old Hector Pietersen. Before long Soweto was on fire, both literally and figuratively. The police eventually put an end to the uprising but news of the massacre spread quickly nationally and internationally. The innocent attempt at a peaceful uprising resulted in horrible tragedy for the people of Soweto. But their sacrifice brought renewed international attention to the Anti-Apartheid struggle and eventually led to its abolition.