Reliving history in Joburg

Reliving history in Joburg
Gold Reef City, one of the theme parks in Johannesburg, South Africa

Suchitra Steven Samuel recounts her trip to Johannesburg to witness firsthand what freedom means to the people of South Africa



by

Suchitra Steven Samuel

Published: Fri 8 Jul 2016, 9:10 PM

Last updated: Sun 10 Jul 2016, 2:00 PM

One look at the long immigration counter queues was enough to see that the O R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg was living up to its reputation as one of the busiest airports in Africa. The counter officer was welcoming. Sporting a broad smile, he said, "Why don't you start with an interview of me?" - a firsthand experience of the friendly nature of the people of the country.
Known as the 'City of Dreams' after the discovery of gold, the city of Joburg is the largest and most populous city of South Africa and just over 120 years old. To its credit, it has the world's largest urban forests with more than six million trees, and the tap water too is rated among the cleanest in the world.

Day 1

Our first stop was at the Voortrekker Monument. Located in Tshwane, it is a unique cultural and historical magnet that attracts around 200,000 visitors annually. The monument was built to commemorate the Voortrekker pioneers and their journey - the Great Trek. Located on a hill that is spread across 240 hectares, the Nature Reserve, also known as the Voortrekker Monument Heritage Site, lies south of Pretoria and is a major landmark on a low hill.
The building was designed by architect Gerard Moerdijk to commemorate the bravery and persistence of the Afrikaner pioneers, who embarked north on the Great Trek between 1835 and 1854, from the British-controlled Cape Colony.
Next up was Freedom Park, a monument that stands testimony to democracy. This is a site of remembrance, where South Africa honours those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for freedom. It has a gallery of leaders, 'Wall of Names', an amphitheatre and a sanctuary.
Jacob Bogopane, the tour guide at the park, said, "This is a huge wall that commemorates those who laid down their lives for freedom. There is an eternal flame in front of the building that symbolises the struggle of humanity in its quest for freedom and pays tribute to the unsung men and women who sacrificed their lives for it. The invisible cord that connects humanity is expressed through the various elements in the park."
The 'Wall of Names' is  an awe-inspiring structure (697m long), inscribed with the names of those who died during the eight conflicts in South African history: pre-colonial wars, slavery, genocide, wars of resistance, the South African War, the First World War, the Second World War and the Struggle for Liberation. The physical wall can accommodate 120,000 names. To date, 75,000 names have been verified for inscription. The design also allows for future generations to memorialise their heroes and heroines.
Interestingly, the nine provinces of South Africa were asked to provide a boulder from a place with historical significance. These were then used to construct the 'Lesaka' or the burial ground where the spirits of people have been laid to rest, according to African tradition.

Day 2

Operator/guide Joe Motsogi introduced us to the vibrant, high-energy commercial centre of South Africa and a hub around which business people, residents, shoppers and tourists live, work, play, shop and meet. We took a tuk-tuk (autoricksaw) around the Sandton Business Precinct. Sandton is home to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as well.
The next stop was at the Peacemakers Museum, located in Nelson Mandela Square. It was decorated to welcome visitors to the country. There was an exhibition on the Nobel Peace Laureates of South Africa. Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize together in 1993 for their work to peacefully end the apartheid regime and for jointly laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.
The Cradle of Humankind was the next stop. With its 13 paleontological sites, it is one of eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa - and the only one in Gauteng. Footprints of famous personalities like Jacob Zuma, Thabo Mbeki, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Anan, former UN Secretary General, Professor Sydney Brenner, the 2002 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, were a part of the plethora of interesting exhibits.

Day 3

The first stop on Day 3 was a visit to the Maboneng Precinct, the Arts on Main Street. Certain areas in Johannesburg were earlier declared no-go zones because of crime - but times have changed now.
Maboneng is a Sotho word, meaning "place of light". Today, this is a centre of creative energy for urban artists in the city. There is an interesting mix of art galleries, retail and studio spaces. The precinct attracts both the inner-city public, as well as the chic, artistic crowds of the city's northern suburbs, bringing life back into downtown Johannesburg.
The squatter camps in Soweto could perhaps be described as the dark side of South Africa. We walked towards the famous Vilakazi Street - home to two Nobel laureates: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Soweto, the most famous township in South Africa boasts a wealth of cultural and historic attractions. The Mandela Family Museum, the Hector Pieterson Museum, as well as Freedom Square in Kliptown, where the freedom charter was signed, are a few such attractions. The Mandela House now belongs to the Soweto Heritage Trust. The Hector Pieterson monument honours young heroes for their struggle, laying down their life for freedom, peace and democracy. The Kwa Mai-Mai Market, located in the Central Business District of Joburg, has dozens of stalls lining the street run by traditional healers.
Thus ended a phenomenal tour of the beautiful city of Johannesburg, a definite must-see on any traveller's list. The rich culture that is ingrained in Africa, both in the continent and its people, is a fascinating one to learn about and experience. Legends of Africa and moments in history abound in this country. A visit to South Africa offers a deep insight into the past - and more than a glimpse of where the path of freedom will lead to.

Voortrekker Museum
Voortrekker Museum
Voortrekker Museum
Voortrekker Museum
Wall of Names, Freedom Tower
Wall of Names, Freedom Tower
Lesaka, Freedom Tower
Lesaka, Freedom Tower
FNB Stadium
FNB Stadium
Freedom fighters honoured inside Freedom Tower
Freedom fighters honoured inside Freedom Tower

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