But Soweto, the township made famous during the bloody apartheid uprisings in the mid-1970s, is not far away. Plan on spending a full day seeing the sobering sights of this city. Parts of Soweto look like an upscale American suburb. Other parts look like something three steps down from hell.
Still, the people who live in Soweto smile. Their surroundings might be less than idyllic by Western standards, but at least the people are free. As one Soweto native said: “Embrace that which works to destroy you. That is the only way to overcome it.”
The two stops that you’ll definitely have to make here are the Hector Pieterson Museum, which honors the memory of the first teen casualty of the 1976 uprising. Hector Pieterson (also spelled as Peterson) was killed when police opened fire on a group of student protesters. He was just 12 years old. The iconic newspaper photo of his body being carried away by another student is located on a monument just outside the museum.
Another must-do destination is the Regina Mundi Church, which is not far from the museum. The church, which still has bullet holes in the walls from various police raids, provided a semi-safe refuge for the protesters.
If parts of Soweto resemble hell, then just about all of Cape Town looks and feels like something beyond heaven. Located on the southern tip of the country and the continent, this coastal city with British accents has just about everything you need to unwind. There’s the thriving Victoria & Alfred Waterfront complex, where you can eat well and drink well (try the South African red wines!), deplete the contents of your wallet in the shops and the adjacent crafts warehouse, take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain (offered only on clear days), explore the District Six Museum, peruse the Green Point flea market, check out those nutty penguins on Boulders Beach or catch the ferry to Robben Island, the prison that once housed Nelson Mandela.
There’s tons of stuff to explore outside of the city center, too, among them the Langa and Khayelitsha townships, which are among the oldest in the country, and the wine country. As previously noted, South African wines rival the best from Napa and Tuscany.
Once you arrive in Africa with your TTDL (things to do list), you’ll quickly realize that you might have time for only about half of those things. Trust that the unexpected will be an everyday occurrence. But it’s also a place where a woman you’ve never met will call you “sister,” and a man will help a stranger carry his luggage.
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