This summer, Ph.D./MSW student Sara Pilgreen shares postcards from Johannesburg, where she is living and working.
Over the weekend I travelled from Johannesburg with my host sister and her two friends to the townships of Lenasia and Soweto. Soweto -- the much acclaimed and, perhaps, most famous township in the world, with the renowned Vilakazi Street -- was an incredible experience. My time spent in Lenasia was also appealing as we traveled there solely to visit Nadine’s family. Nadine was born and raised in Lenasia and only in the past year have she and her mother moved to Johannesburg proper.
The afternoon in Lenasia, or “Lens” as most refer to it, was spent outside in a local park with a lot of Nadine’s family and friends celebrating one of her cousin’s birthdays. I would have to say the main differences between Anytown Park, U.S.A., and the park in Lenasia was the huge screen (left over from the 2010 World Cup) that constantly played rap music videos for all to hear and see, and the younger generation sitting in smaller groups smoking hookah. Otherwise there were families out, kites flying, and people milling around despite the wintry weather. We said our good-byes around 3 in the afternoon making our subsequent stop the next township over, Soweto.
Sitting in the park with Nadine's family and friends
To my surprise it was Nadine and Copi’s (Nadine’s best friend) first time to Soweto. The amount of South African history that has taken place in Soweto is incredible. Both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived on Vilakazi Street, the only place in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners have lived on the same street. The three of us went on the Mandela House Tour; the house was shockingly small but nicely restored and the tour was very informative. (That picture at the top of the page is me, Nadine and Copi outside of the house.)
Following the house tour we continued on to small bars where the locals hang out, or shebeens . We decided on “Chaf Pozi,” one that is beneath the prominent Soweto Towers. It was freezing cold, yet the place was quite packed (despite the lack of an enclosed space or heaters). Families were there, people were dancing, the DJ was spinning and hot food with cold drinks were being served. We did not stay long as the main concern was Sunday night traffic back into the City.
The traffic that we hit on the main highway was comparable to the 405 at peak times. Road rules are a little different here so instead of staying at a standstill we drove the car across the median and located a different route. It took approximately 30 minutes driving to Lenasia in the morning and an hour and a half driving home around 7 p.m. Sunday night. It was an amazing day, especially sharing the experience of the Nelson Mandela house with Nadine and Copi, all of us for the first time.
Monday was my first day at my internship. Interning here at “The Council,” as locals refer to it, is comparable to being in a high-level government agency in Washington D.C. There are high levels of security, huge office buildings, and just a buzz of energy that is constantly running through the building. What I am doing mostly right now is reading different social policy reports, attending various meetings, and spending time with each of the different team members of the Social Assistance Program to begin to grasp the complexity that is CoJ (City of Johannesburg).