South Africa a Personal Journey: On the Road to Pretoria

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While in South Africa, I visited many neighbourhoods and townships around Johannesburg as well as outlying towns. After our visit to Soweto, we waited until the next day for Pretoria. My personal journey was all too quickly coming to an end. My excitement during the entire trip was tinged with disappointment that the stay would end so soon.

But it almost got extended by a pretty significant amount of time.

After finding out a wealth of information from the first interview that D and I conducted, I realised that this part of the world, besides being a fairly dangerous place to live if you didn’t know the rules, was fascinating enough to give me material for several news stories. I relayed that information to the paper and they agreed that perhaps I should stay longer. DiMarkco just needed to check a few things out.

He left the issue open and said that we would talk about it after my second interview, which was scheduled the next day.

The second interview, revealed even more things that were fascinating and opened up many other avenues of interest. After that day had finished, L and I rang the paper on Skype to report our findings.

Speaking to DiMarkco, our boss, he asked about the possibility of extending my stay. Did I have anything to stop me from staying longer, he asked. I replied that the only thing necessitating a return would be my heart medication. But first I needed to see if I could extend my ticket. After trying to do it over the internet, I gave up and finally called the airline.

The answer was a straight forward no. There was no room for negotiation, you flew back on the original day of booking or you bought another ticket. Buying another ticket was an option that DiMarkco had thrown out there so I checked prices and found that a one way flight from Johannesburg would cost more than the paper had paid to fly me out and back.

I relayed the information to the big guy and he asked if I could stay till the middle of the month. By that time we would have our money in from advertisers to fund the ticket back. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t bring enough heart medication with me and I couldn’t afford to go to a private doctor and purchase the replacements in South Africa. I would have to leave and then come back.

That meant that I had one more day to see everything I’d been sent to see. It also meant missing out on one of the biggest interviews that had been set up. But that was my fault as I’d incorrectly said I was leaving on Tuesday morning.  I was woefully out of practise in the world travelling department.

For someone who had, at one time, travelled quite frequently; I made a few errors. One was reading my return flight information incorrectly. I had decided in my infinite wisdom that I would be departing Johannesburg  on the Tuesday, but, I was departing Monday night and arriving back in the UK on Tuesday.  Then I misread the ticket again, and decided I was leaving in the morning and not at night!

There were two incidents that gave all  those around me (and me especially) abject heart failure. The lovely people who put up with me for the four days I was in South Africa, C and L, had planned a couple of special events for my stay. A South African barbecue one evening and a traditional stew the next. I wound up missing both due to the long days D and I were putting in. I did get to sample some “left overs” from the barbecue and it was delicious, even after being warmed up in the microwave!

One of the heart attack inducing moments took place in these lovely people’s home. I decided to get all my things organised so that when I packed up, I didn’t inadvertently leave anything behind. As I gathered medication and toiletries, I decided to clear out my wallet except for some Euro’s that I’d purchased in Amsterdam.

My room during my stay.
My room during my stay.

As I went through my wallet, I noticed that my credit card was missing. I stopped and immediately started searching my luggage. It wasn’t in my suitcase or my toiletry bag. I checked my wallet, trouser pockets, shirt pockets and even sifted through my dirty laundry pile. I then remembered that C had offered to wash my travel clothes.

Eureka! I just knew that the card would be in those two items.

Wrong. They were not. L was getting very concerned, he told me if I’d dropped it anywhere whilst we had been travelling around, I needed to get it cancelled immediately, if it was not already too late.  My anxiety level cranked up another notch or two and I began another close scrutiny of all my clothing once again. It was when I bent down that I remembered one place I had not checked.

I have a place where I keep all my important things when I travel. Passports, driving license’s and credit cards. I checked and sure enough, that was where I’d put the card. it had been so long since I’d travelled that I forgot to look there when I couldn’t find it in my wallet. Calling myself many very uncomplimentary names, I went out to inform C and L that the daft old bugger had found his card.

The relief I felt was shared by all.

The second thing I messed up, as I mentioned above, was the departure day of my return flight and then the times that I needed to be at the airport. All in all, I think I impressed everyone with my overwhelming ability to be an idiot!

Luckily, my newly discovered idiocy did not extend to my work and that was done reasonably well. I went to all the places I was meant to and took well over 1,600 pictures. Some, I have used on my blog posts, and many more are being lumped into places and shared with the writing team.

On the last day of my personal and professional journey to South Africa, I packed my bags, said goodbye to one of my hosts, C as L had gone to work already. I then took myself and my bags out to the vehicle and we started on our way to  Pretoria.

To be continued…

View of Pretoria from the Union Building.
View of Pretoria from the Union Building.

South Africa My Personal Journey: Soweto and Mandela House

Outside Mandela House personal photo
Outside Mandela House personal photo

The recounting of my personal journey through South Africa has so far been fraught with the dangers that people face in certain parts of the Johannesburg area. But the whole trip was not all about the crime and precautions, although a lot of it was. There were two areas that welcomed people and visitors into their world.

Soweto was on my list of things to see mainly because of the Mandela House Museum.  As we approached the township my two companions (our driver L, who was a star and D our correspondent) pointed out that the area we were entering welcomed outsiders. Apparently it had to do with the fact that the denizens of Soweto liked the idea that  white visitors weren’t too terrified to visit.

On the way there, while stopped at a traffic light, a mini-pickup truck with a small group of black men in the back, noticed me taking pictures. They began to wave and smile and make camera gestures (this consisted of making a square with both hands and holding them up to their face). I was happy to oblige and after getting a few shots of these friendly people, they gave the universal “thumbs-up” sign and “okay” sign.

One very enthusiastic fellow blew us a kiss.

The friendly chaps in the white pickup truck outside Soweto
The friendly chaps in the white pickup truck outside Soweto

“See?” Our correspondant asked. “Soweto is very friendly and welcoming, even before we’ve entered the area!”  They were indeed both friendly and helpful.  We made our way to the Mandela House Museum, which was not full of people, although a steady trickle of South African tourist were entering. I appeared to be the only “real” foreigner there.

As you go through the museum, tour guides explain the significance of the house. The little lady who spoke to me got inadvertently ignored for the whole first part of her spiel as I’d assumed that she was just someone else who was there to see the house and not a guide.  She didn’t let that stop her though.

L had to have it pointed out to me that the elderly lady was a guide and that she wanted me to see things in order. Thankfully, I’m too old to blush, otherwise I’d have gone a brilliant hue of red.  I dutifully followed the lady around the small museum and took pictures as she talked.

Mandela House was a solemn moment in a friendly town. The overall feeling was that Soweto was proud of the man who’d moved there and became the first black South African president. The house where he lived, but was not born in, is a stark reminder of the days of Apartheid and the world’s acceptance of it.

The only jarring note at the museum was the price of admission. Not that it was too expensive. Rather it was the pricing system. that was disturbing.  The sign by the ticket kiosk had a list of prices.  South AFricans paid one price, non-South Africans paid slightly higher, and “tourists” paid higher still. I missed the sign, but it was pointed out to me as we left. Rather an unsettling moment where it seems that while “outsiders” are more than welcome, they will pay for the privilege of “not being South African.”

This “triple” pay system was used at other “tourist” attractions as well.

The overall experience of visiting Soweto was relaxed and pleasurable. The streets were full of apparently happy and smiling people and there was a good feeling to the place, with none of the undercurrent that ran though the other areas visited on the trip.  It was  as though the place was an oasis in the tense high crime arena of Johannesburg.

All too soon we had to leave the peaceful surroundings of Mandela House Museum and head off to our next destination. I want to return to Soweto and spend more time there if for no other reason than to soak up some more of that friendly, relaxed atmosphere.

To be continued…

Mandela House Museum photo by author.
Mandela House Museum photo by author.