This Tour is a refreshing way to discover Soweto and its people. A group of us assemble for this exact reason. We’re made up of locals, a quartet of black American pilgrims, and a couple from the upper edges of northern Europe. We come together at the top of a rise after cycling a short distance from Lebo’s Backpackers in the trough below. From this vantage point we get a breathtaking view of Soweto. Philip, our tour guide, compliments the moment with a brief history of Soweto coupled with interesting “Did you knows”. Soon, we’re back on our bikes, ready to explore South Africa’s most famous township.
Our first experience is of the living conditions at the former migrant workers’ hostel at Mzimhlophe. Here we’re introduced to the environment the male migrant workers would’ve had to suffer through. We soon retreat to a nearby shebeen for a more palatable taste of the neighbourhood.
Inside the makeshift corrugated iron shelter boiled off-cuts of cow meat are laid out in front of us in one bowl and in another, hunks of pap. No one has a personal serving; instead everyone eats together from the shared meal, as custom dictates.
On the other end of lunch is a new low-income housing development. En route we move through the cramped neighbourhood meeting the families that live here today. Excited residents wave ecstatically from their homes, while others affectionately insist on posing for pictures with the foreign holidaymakers. On arrival we discover that the housing development is a dramatic improvement on the impoverished community we’ve left behind just a stone throw away.
We continue to the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the historical landmark of the 16 June 1976 student protests. We’re invited to return on future visits for a more contemplative walk through the museum, where the late Pieterson’s sister now works to preserve the memory of those that lost their lives that day.
With tummies full we arrive at Nelson Mandela’s old house. This is a modest one roomed place he rented when he first arrived in Johannesburg in 1941.
Next the tour takes us to the famous Vilikazi Street. This is the only street in the world to have produced two Nobel Prize winners in Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. On this occasion we only visit the former president’s house, which has been transformed into a museum. From here we head out to Lebo’s Backpackers where we’ll chill out with a cold beer. What we take with us from the cycle tour are stories of the struggle, a taste of the local flavour and memories of the warm people that make Soweto the unforgettable destination that it is.