Since we had only 2 days in Joburg, Thope had suggested a visit either to Maropeng or Sun City. Google it, she had said, referring to Maropeng.
I’d never heard about Maropeng but when I discovered its background and that it had been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, there was no doubt where we’d go.
About an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, Maropeng, the “Cradle of Civilization” is the area where our ancestors lived for more than 3 million years. The earliest human fossils, the most famous of which, “Mrs. Ples,” believed to be a distant relative of humankind, were unearthed in the nearby Sterkfontein Caves.
A jarring sound jolted us awake on our first Saturday in South Africa. It shouldn’t be time to get up yet, I thought. But it was and as my eyes adjusted to my surroundings, I could tell the sky was already turning a luminous blue.
Roger was up and had corn porridge (miele-meal), a traditional breakfast, ready for us. It was just what we needed to warm our stomachs.
Following breakfast, we began a very abbreviated tour of Soweto. Our first stop was Mandela House, the Mandela Family Museum on Vilakazi Street. This simple building was the home Nelson Mandela shared with his first wife, Evelyn, and where Winnie, his second wife, also lived. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay until it opened as we had a full day ahead. We decided to see it and the Apartheid Museum on our return to Johannesburg.
During our meetings in the months leading up to our departure, Sandra, Judith and I decided to identify our three ‘must-see’ places in South Africa. Soweto was on each of our lists.
An abbreviation of South Western Townships, Soweto, is home to about 2 million people. It is recognized internationally as the seat of the Apartheid resistance, and for us, women of African descent, it holds a strong emotional charge. No visit to Johannesburg would have been complete without a trip to Soweto. In fact, if all we got to see was Soweto, we would have been happy. Anything more would be, as we say in Jamaican parlance, brawta, a treat.
We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, on the last Thursday night in August after a lovely flight via Amsterdam on KLM. KLM’s flight attendants were extremely friendly and attentive, the meals delicious and so attractively presented, I almost didn’t want to damage the package by opening it. (Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where we had a 2-hour layover and KLM’s service deserve separate posts.)
Thope and Hope, our new friends, were waiting to meet us at Johannesburg’s Oliver R. Tambo International Airport. Thope‘s a friend of my new friend, Montrealer and South African jazz singer, Lorraine Klaasen, and Hope is Thope’s friend and co-owner of Shepherds Court,the guest house where we were booked to stay.
We had met Lorraine earlier in the year, told her about our trip and asked her to recommend places for us to see. When I told her that we didn’t know a soul in South Africa, without hesitation, she whipped out her Blackberry and gave us the contact information of several of her friends and relatives in Johannesburg. We were deeply touched by her generosity.