A Ride to Remember

A Ride to Remember
The cityscape of Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A bicycle ride around Soweto, Johannesburg may be one of the most authentic ways to experience the history of South Africa

Anshika Nagar
September 19 , 2019
03 Min Read

The day I went cycling around Soweto. Correction: the day I went cycling uphill to Soweto. For someone whose idea of fitness is a fifteen-minute walk to work, this was a sure challenge. It all started out fine, really, but things went downhill (um, uphill) quickly. And halfway through, I was more dragging my bicycle than riding it. But that was barely the highlight of my tour. Despite my grunts and heavy breathing, my mind focused only on my experience. A tour around Soweto was a glimpse into the history and culture of the country. 

At once, rows and rows of small houses cropped up on my left and our guides took a breather, excitedly launching into the story of this settlement. A township of Johannesburg, it grew when gold was discovered there in 1886. Now, large, yellow-ish mounds of earth surround the township. The yellow colour proof of gold that once existed, we were told.  


Orlando Towers in Soweto, Johannesburg

Soweto grew as a black colony. Large, crowded and marked by two tall cooling towers that once supplied electricity to Johanessburg but not Soweto. Back in the day, it was a slum-like area where black people were moved when authorities thought they would spread the bubonic plague (or ‘black death’ as it was called) to the white population. The people lived in tin houses or tents and huddled around a sewage farm.

Only recently, has the government help uplift the area. Now, these neat rows of matchbox houses and mansions make a vibrant community, with an affinity for sports and merriment. This area, with more than 2.5 million people, is home to over eleven languages--from Zulu to the clicking Xhosa. 

This short tour will let you experience day to day life in the township and the famous spots such as Nelson Mandela's house. It will give you a brief but good inside into the history and daily life of black's in South Africa. All of this including stories about the struggle by black South Africans against Apartheid. 

Outside Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum

Eventually, I walked around the settlement and was much happier for it. A few children tagged along with us, and we made conversation until they ran back home. The bicycle tour included a visit to the museum named after Hector Pieterson, who was shot dead during a student uprising that changed the course of South Africa. A place of symbolism, the walls of the memorial are of different sizes, marking the different ages of the children killed. The gaps represent the untold stories and olive trees are planted around it as a sign of peace. Hector Pieterson’s picture is placed next to flowing water that marks the blood flown. 

From there, we cycled ahead to Nelson Mandela’s home. Turned into a museum, it shows his life and the high-security home that Winnie Mandela lived in. Later, at lunch, where we were presented with a buffet of South African dishes, we ran into Hector Peterson’s sister. 

Our bicycle tour ended when we circled back to the starting point. After eating my lunch with much gusto, I was filled with energy. We rode the bicycle back all the way, stopping briefly to collect handmade souvenirs.  

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