Trouble in Soweto – A last minute change of plans

Sunday January 25th ~ Near Johannesburg, South Africa

Our plans were to have a half day tour through Soweto, a neighborhood of Johannesburg, but due to a violent outburst that left several dead, and a looting problem, our tour was cancelled. In fact all of the major tour companies were left scrambling to rearrange schedules, feeling that the area might not be safe for us to enter, even on our large tour busses. 

Fortunate for us, Tesse (our Gate 1 tour guide), had lived in the area and was comfortable to substitute a tour through the neighboring administrative capital city of Pretoria, plus a few extra sites. 

Voortrekker Monument 

Designed by architect Gerard Moerdijk, this building is meant to honor the brave Afrikaner pioneers who traveled north from the British-controlled Cape Colony. Thousands made the journey between 1835 and 1854 in what became known as the “Great Trek”.

“Just past the gates, surrounding the monument, is a wagon laager. Made out of granite, the 64 wagons symbolize the protection of the monument. The same number of wagons were used in the Battle of Blood River.” ~

Voortrekker Monument

Voortrekker Monument with statue of Voortrekker woman and two children

Statue of

Statue of Piet Retief

Once inside the Hall of Heroes, you can pass by the centerpiece, an empty tomb, called a Cenotaph. The writing on top translates to “We for thee, South Africa”. The building was carefully designed so that on December 16th, light will shine through a hole in the domed ceiling and shine directly on the tomb. December 16th is the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River.

The four large arched windows are made of Belgium glass.

Looking down from the upper dome area

Looking down from the upper dome area

You can take an elevator to the upper level, and then climb additional stairs to reach the upper dome level for impressive views of the city of Pretoria as well as a look down on the empty tomb.

Cenotaph (meaning empty tomb) made from red granite

Cenotaph (meaning empty tomb) made from red granite

The walls are lined with 27 panels that depict the Great Trek, as well as daily life of the Trekkers. This is the largest marble frieze in the world.

A section of one of the 27 panels

A section of one of the 27 panels that tell the story of the Great Trek

Down stairs is a museum as well as numerous stitchery and tapestry panels.

Inside the basement level museum

Inside the basement level museum

Nelson Mandela statue and Union Buildings 

On December 16, 2013, just a few days after his burial, the largest statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in front of the 100-year-old Union Buildings.

The largest statue of Nelson Mandela

The largest statue of Nelson Mandela

“The nine-metre statue stands on the lawn of the government headquarters where Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.” ~

Apartheid Museum 

Apartheid is at the heart of the story of 20th century South Africa, and this museum took on the immense task of telling that tale. We only had about an hour and a half to spend here, and I could have easily spent several hours.

Well laid out, the visitor is taken through 22 individual exhibitions that describes the state-sanctioned system that was based on racial discrimination and the struggle of the majority to overcome this system.

No photography was allowed inside.

At the entrance, written on a large concrete wall are these words of Nelson Mandela:

“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – June 1999

From the side

From the side

Many columns of metal were inserted into a base and when lined up at just the right angle, the face of Mandela became visible.

Image of Nelson Mandela

Image of Nelson Mandela

Our Gate 1 tour had come to an end and we topped off the evening with a farewell dinner at our hotel. I was sad to once again say goodbye to a wonderful group of people who we had shared so much with in such a short amount of time.

A special “thank you” and shout out to “Tesse” our terrific tour guide and someone I am now delighted to call my friend.

Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful to have a more clear understanding of the struggles that went on in South Africa, of the strength of the people to overcome the oppression, and that today they are rebuilding a society based on freedom for all her citizens.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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8 Responses to Trouble in Soweto – A last minute change of plans

  1. Mary Towell says:

    Thank you for these pictures and a little bit of insight into the struggles of South Africa. So glad you are safe after the problems in that area! Mary Towell


    • Mary, the story of Apartheid is complex, and I only scratched the surface. I did come back with a bit more of an understanding, but I’m sure that those that “lived” the story would have volumes to share. The problems today in Soweto have simmered down, and as you will read in my next post, we did get to visit that area after all…


  2. Brenda Thompson says:

    As always, thank you for your insight and photos. I learn so much from you.


  3. Aunt Beulah says:

    Your gratitude was especially beautiful today.


  4. Shoshana Magdieli says:

    Hi Joanne and Tim Sorry that I had not respond to your e mail, I was so busy since we came home my son and his wife came back home(to Washington both were in Israel as diplomats)so we are very excited ! In 2 weeks I am going to Nederland for a week and by the and of May we will have a add’l member to our family my daughter in low will have a baby (I will be there for 1 month) but after that I would like to get together !! Joanne you did a amazing job with the pictures and the write up -Love it! Keep in touch and hope to see you in the “Safari” of NYC Shoshana

    Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2015 20:16:43 +0000 To:


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