Day 1 – Johannesburg
It was a relief to finally land in Johannesburg after flying Qatar Airways for almost 10 hrs en route from Oman and Doha.
I was not in the best of moods. QA had run out of their confidently listed Cheese Ravioli in pepper sauce (as they do very often these days), and I had to settle for the slow cooked chicken in barbecue sauce, which judging by how long it took to munch on it, raised doubts about the ‘slow cooked’ claim. My husband had to wait forever for his cognac as the stewardesses were genuinely puzzled about its whereabouts. They also seemed to be irritatingly confused about the serving sequence, skipping rows and running out of food. The chocolate orange mousse cake was delicious but didn’t quite make up for these lapses on the long journey. QA needs to pull up its socks and look sharp. Or was it just that I was flying them for the fifth time this year and desperately needed a change from the repeated slipups?
My mood, however, took a turn for the better when we met our cheerful guide at the arrival hall. We had only one day in Johannesburg so he made sure we wasted no time and started on the sightseeing prior to checking in at the Park Inn.
We stopped first at Soweto, South Africa’s sprawling metropolis on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Soweto is remembered for its 1976 uprising of African schoolchildren. What began as a protest against using Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools, ended in extensive police brutality.
A photo of 11-year-old Hector Pieterson being carried after being fatally shot was splashed across newspapers worldwide, bringing attention to the deeply rooted evils of apartheid and subjugation. South Africa commemorates this day as ‘Youth Day’ across the nation. The Hector Pieterson museum has a gallery with photos of the tragic riot when innocent children were massacred for daring to protest.
Onwards to Mandela House which is now a historical museum. The house is quite small and therefore difficult to imagine Mandela and his co-patriots gathering here for political meetings. But they did, and various memorabilia and photos adorn the walls, nooks, and corners, showing glimpses into the life of a charismatic man who led his country’s anti-apartheid struggle.
Our guide then announced we had to stop at the Vilakazi Street. The street is famous for housing the residences of two Nobel Peace Laureates – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. These men were undoubtedly great but the street is…well, just a street.
We then continued on to the Regina Mundi Church, the site of many underground meetings of banned political parties. Though this is supposed to be the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa, it didn’t seem quite as big, perhaps because of the construction work going on, and some of the areas being cordoned off for the general public. Like every other edifice in Africa, this church too has its share of historical significance and is often referred to as the ‘People’s church’ because of its role in sheltering Africans during the freedom struggle.
Speaking of freedom struggles, Mahatma Gandhi’s well-documented connection to South Africa is commemorated in his bronze statue which stands in the middle of the square that is also named after him. The people he fought for, namely the Indians in South Africa are at present, mostly living in the city of Durban.
On the way back to our hotel, we drove past Soccer City, the largest stadium in Africa and host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final. Its ample dimensions resemble the traditional ‘African Pot’ or ‘The Calabash.’
Driving around the city of Johannesburg, one can still see the remnants of white colonial power visible everywhere, yet the beauty of South Africa lies predominantly in its black population – a heritage by birth that only the indigenous people of Africa own. Every mountain, every lake and every stretch of land speaks of this proud and beautiful heritage.
Day 2 – Sun City
Roughly two hours drive from the city of Johannesburg lies Sun City. It is only meant for those travelers who are specifically looking for either gambling or family entertainment or both.
If you’ve been to the casinos in Las Vegas or Macau you can easily give the one in Sun City a miss as comparatively, it falls short in both grandiosity and size.
There are other things to do in Sun City, for example, the Valley of Waves, the Lost City Maze, and the Golf Course for the golf enthusiasts. If you want to experience the nightlife then there are ample choices in hotels to stay overnight. We didn’t.
After a half day tour of the place (where most of the attractions were closed), we headed straight for the casino and spent the next couple of hours at the different gaming tables and slot machines. There were no major losses and a few small wins so everyone was happy.
Day 2 ended in us going back to Johannesburg and having the most amazing dinner at the Butcher Shop and Grill in Sandton on Nelson Mandela Square.
The restaurant is famous for its steaks, seafood, and homegrown wine and was packed with people who had been smart enough to make prior reservations. Luckily, after a short wait, we did manage to get a table.
Replete with the delicious food and wine at this fine dining restaurant, I had somehow magically been compensated for the poor service on my flight.
Yes, the rest of the holiday would definitely go well.
Travel tip – If you shop in South Africa, you are levied 14% VAT. This can be refunded at the airport departure points after filling the necessary forms and providing tax invoices.
Coming up soon – South Africa (Cape Town and the Garden Route).