After letting Virginia at the Motel MiPiChi know that someone from Standard Bank might be dropping off a debit card for me mid-morning, I hopped in the back of Jacco’s Hyundai for an all-day guided tour. Jacco (the guide the hotel arranged the day before) is the son of Pierre, who picked me up from the airport as arranged by the motel, and is an accomplished private tour guide in his own right. He’s in his early to mid 20s and definitely has his finger on the pulse of the city.
The first stop was the Apartheid Museum, where I spent three hours learning about the history of race relations on South Africa, which in many respects is the history of South Africa. The city of Johannesburg went from nothing before 1885, through mixed-race settlements in the gold rush, to segregation during and after the Boer Wars, to the reprehensible apartheid in the 1930s and 1940s. That it lasted until 1990 is really remarkable: well into my lifetime, a Western democracy kept men in prison for advocating equal rights, kept black people in remote townships, and actively promoted “racial purity” campaigns and published virulently racist propaganda. Within my memory.
Ultimately, as a result of the 1976 school uprisings, international pressure from all sides, and the inexorable march of progress, South Africa achieved a measure of reconciliation in 1990, when President de Klerk agreed to release Nelson Mandela and others from prison without precondition, and South Africa is now nineteen years into its experiment with truly democratic majority rule. Of course, problems remain.
From the museum, Jacco drove me through the infamous Soweto Township. One of the original apartheid “resettlement” towns, Soweto was especially notorious during the tumultuous time between the 1976 uprising and 1990. It may well have been dangerous and crime-ridden then, but the fact that for some it still carries that reputation is unfortunate. Soweto is not wealthy, and many residents still live in the “matchbox” houses built for them (and then rented to them) by the apartheid government, and given to them by the state when Mandela took office. The streets were clean and full of people.
We made a stop at a licensed version of the traditional (and quite illegal) shebeen. These were the back-room “bars” that spring up around Soweto during the period when the apartheid government either would not allow black citizens to buy alcohol, or required them to buy it at state-run stores once a week. Women (usually) made a potent-tasting but relatively low alcohol brew from corn that they fermented for as little as three days. This “Johannesburg Beer” is still sold, and Jacco had me try it. Tastes more like white wine or cider than beer.
We drove through a bit more of Soweto, and Jacco transferred me to on-site guides for the Oppenheimer Tower and accompanying art installation (with what believes characterize as a 9/11 prophecy dating to 1979) and the famous
Regina Mundi Catholic church, the site of many portent gatherings and a place of refuge for some in 1976. The caretaker/guide showed me bullet holes from that time, as well as the exact places where, in more recent times, Bill Clinton sat and Michelle Obama stood and spoke.
We left Soweto around three, and Jacco drove me to the “44 Stanley” retail redevelopment on the edge of the university district. I had a late lunch and called Standard Bank, since the promised phone call never came. I won’t bore with the details, but the end result was a solemn promise that the agent from the night before just had to call the ATM division to get some sort of approval, and she would call me right back. I cut short the rest of the tour (we’ll pick up when I’m back in Jozi in a couple of weeks) and had jacco drop me at the hotel so I could work with the bank.
As you will have anticipated if you’re clever, the promised call never came, and by the evening it was clear that I’d be leaving for Cape Town in the morning without my debit card. (I do have a backup ATM card from a separate bank, so thanks to those – being my parents and my friend Rick – who offered assistance in that regard.)