Take a Sho’t Left through Soweto

25 March 2009

Bungee-jumping between Soweto’s Orlando Towers, driving around the township in a double-decker-open-top bus, and visiting the Apartheid Museum made my Sho’t Left tour a humdinger of an escapade.

My epic day began when I woke early on a Thursday morning in the middle of March, feeling a bit feeble. My mind whispered that if I persisted in my decision to take that “sho’t left,” it would lead to something extreme later on in the day. Nonetheless, I went ahead.

With a stressful working environment, the tour was perfect because I was in dire need of something to invigorate my spirits and relieve the tensions of my deadline-driven days.

So off I set for Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg’s cultural precinct, to meet the rest of the crew invited along the tour. I arrived as the sun’s rays broke through the clouds. At that moment, I put on my shades to protect my somnolent eyes from the harsh ultraviolet rays. And we’re off

The first stop is Museum Africa; we are told that it is Joburg’s major history and cultural museum.

As we walk in, a scrum of photographers and journalists unpack their backpacks and take out their cameras and notepads. Mzwakhe Mahlangu, a tour guide, tells us these are important tools for the tour.

Museum Africa

Mahlangu says the Museum Africa building, which used to be the city’s fruit and vegetable market, was erected in 1913; in recent times it has been transformed into a more modern edifice, with two pillars embellishing its façade.

The museum comprises a vast collection of exhibitions, paintings and objects that have been collected since the 1930s; “They all retell South Africa’s history,” Mahlangu says.

Most of the museum’s exhibitions are permanent and illustrate the transformation of lifestyles – from the archaic age to urbanisation – in the area of Johannesburg. “These exhibitions define Johannesburg’s position in South Africa’s complex history,” Mahlangu adds.

There are seven permanent displays, themes of which have been chosen to echo the complex economic, social, political and geographical history of the country, with emphasis on urbanisation in Johannesburg since the embryonic phase to the discovery of gold in 1886.

On the second floor there is an eye-catching display of the San rock art, housed in a reconstructed shelter.

Museum Africa is at 121 Bree Street, Newtown. To book a tour, phone 011 833 5624 or e-mail museumafrica@joburg.org.za.

Entrance is free, and the museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 5pm. It is closed on Mondays, Good Friday, Christmas Day and the Day of Goodwill.

Apartheid Museum

Next stop is another museum, the Apartheid Museum, which brings back memories of high school history lessons.

To enter, you need to use your plastic ticket, which resemble the old pass books, on which were printed the words “white” and “non-white”. Pass books were part of the apartheid government’s racial segregation policy.

Inside, the experience is mainly audiovisual. There are a number of television screens showing footage of the history of South Africa under the apartheid government – from life in the townships to black and white resistance and the establishment of Afrikaner nationalism. The footage has been collected from around the world.

The Apartheid Museum is on the corner of Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Road, in Ormonde, in the south. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10am to 5pm. For more information or to book a tour, phone 011 496 1822, e-mail info@apartheidmuseum.org, or visit www.apartheidmuseum.org.

We leave the Apartheid Museum at noon, under a blazing sun. I open a cooldrink can and a packet of chips to while away the time on our way to Soweto, the great township in Joburg’s southwest.

Soccer City

We swiftly drive past the African calabash, the 90 000-seat Soccer City. It is to host the opening ceremony and first match and the final match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. The stadium was built in 1987, and some of the biggest and most memorable matches in South Africa’s soccer history have been played on its field.

Soccer City is undergoing a R1.5-billion facelift for the World Cup. Construction started in early 2007 and is expected to be finished by July. Next door is Safa House, the headquarters of the South African Football Association. World football body Fifa and the 2010 Local Organising Committee are based in the building.

The design of the new stadium was inspired by the African calabash, we are told.

Heading further south, the area around Soccer City is receiving a major upgrade; the Soweto Highway has been widened and will form part of Joburg’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, easing the commute between Soweto and the city.

AS we enter the township via Diepkloof there is a sudden change in the atmosphere; a certain kasi-vibe and fervour can be felt. Youngsters loiter on street corners; mothers sweep their yards with babies strapped on their backs.

When they see the bus, they shout, ululate and wave in delight, with huge smiles adorning their faces – to the chagrin of the taxi drivers who just want to overtake. We are travelling well within the speed limit of 60 kilometres an hour, getting a clearer view of Soweto and its residents.

Bungee!

The weather has cooled by the time we arrive at the Orlando Towers at the old Orlando Power Station, with a breeze blowing across Orlando Dam. Because of time, this is the final stop – and we are about to bungee jump between the towers.

Before I sign my life away – well, that’s another way of looking at an indemnity form – I am handed a leaflet which reads “ONLY 1 in 100 will dare. ARE YOU THE ONE”? To think this would scare me from daring to do it – not a chance.

Taking the lift to the top of the tower, a scary thought creeps into my mind; but I ignore it.

As a first time bungee-jumper, the serenity I feel is not normal. So I ask around, “What is wrong with me? Why aren’t my nerves kicking in?” But whatever, I am still adamant I’ll jump.

On the tower roof, I enjoy the panorama of Soweto and its gentle air that crawls into my lungs. I am left frantic by this experience; however, I remain potent and capable.

“At the count of three, you jump,” an instructor whispers into my ear. Before I jump, I become garrulous to delay the activity, and heave a deep sigh when I see the actual distance from the top. But before the instructor reaches three, my body is aloft and I realise that I have conquered my worst fear. Then, as I am being lowered down, my eyes are filled with tears of joy. I realise that if I can do this, I can do anything.

Mural

This is the end of the tour, and we head back to Jozi, where a Sho’t Left mural is being unveiled next to Sophiatown, a restaurant in Newtown.

Phumi Dhlomo, the director of Africa and domestic tours at SA Tourism, says the tour fitted perfectly with the unveiling of the mural and the agency’s plan to “take Sho’t Left to the streets”.

Explaining the idea behind the mural, Dhlomo says the agency used “street art to depict what tourism is all about and allowing our brand custodians – the South African public – to take ownership of it”.

It was inspired by the agency’s new strategy and target market of young professionals, Dhlomo notes. “The mural will communicate with our target market in a manner most suitable to them – hence a Sho’t Left mural in graffiti.”

Brightly painted on a yellow background, the mural contains the Sho’t Left trademark and its web address, a person bungee-jumping at the Orlando Towers, and three young travellers – one reading a book on Gauteng, the other taking pictures, the third shooting footage on a video camera. There is a catchy map of South Africa and a phrase. It was painted by acclaimed local graffiti artists Breeze, Hac 1 and Rasty.

SA Tourism believes that graffiti plays a major role in promoting youth culture, while bringing dead walls to life.

The Sho’t Left mural is painted “where people live and work”, Dhlomo notes, adding that his agency is optimistic it will have an affect on people’s daily lives “while bringing different forms of art into the public sphere”.

Sho’t Left

“The basic premise of our domestic marketing campaign is “go on a Sho’t Left – it is easy, affordable fun with friends.'”

Sho’t Left is an initiative of SA Tourism designed to showcase world-class tourism destinations in South Africa, and attract people from all walks of life to visit at least one heritage site in their lifetime. The main target is young South Africans to become travellers.

Tourism is a big money spinner. According to statistics compiled by the agency, domestic trips decreased by 23 percent in 2007. About 12.7-million South African adults took an average of 2.8 trips in 2007 compared to 12-million in 2006. This helped generate about R21.3-billion in 2007; an increase of 29 percent over the R16.5-billion in 2006.

The major beneficiaries of domestic tourism in 2007 were KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with both provinces being the source and destination of the majority of domestic trips.

To book a Sho’t Left tour of Joburg and Soweto, call the Johannesburg Tourism Authority on 011 214 0700, the Gauteng Tourism Authority on 011 639 1600, or go to www.visitgauteng.net.

The R1 152 tour includes a drive down Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. It is the only street in the world that was home to two Nobel Peace Prize laureates – Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the Earth Hour patron, and Nelson Mandela.

The fee includes a half-day tour of Soweto, two nights’ accommodation at the four-star Protea Hotel in Rosebank, and a Thompsons draw-string backpack.

Source: City of Johannesburg