South Africa - Tales of Two Townships

Written by  Denise Mattia

The last set of the 20th Joy of Jazz concert had begun. It was nearly 1 a.m. and the indoor passageway from the Sandton Convention Center to my hotel was closed.

The Convention Center is located in the affluent area of Sandton City in Greater Johannesburg, which boasts a string of five-star hotels, a theater, library, an upscale mall and the Nelson Mandela public Square. It’s Johannesburg’s premier tourist, business and financial district. The expansive convention center provides convenient and adaptable meeting and event spaces for any occasion. I walked along the path to my hotel, The Sun Sandton (, cherishing the experience of having heard great live jazz.

From its inception in 1997 to today, the popular Joy of Jazz Festival, a three-day celebration, represents African popular culture, an idiom with deep roots in native African, gospel-tinged soul music, American jazz and the music of resistance to apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s. This year, musicians such as stateside Branford Marsalis, the Joshua Redman Quartet, the Clayton Brothers, the Mac Power Trio, featuring David Murray, Aki Takase and Terri Lyne and South Africa’s Budaza Mapefane, Brenda Ntambo, Selaelo Selota and Abdullah Ibrahim, among many others performed to packed, cheering audiences. The annual festival would not have been possible had it not been for Nelson Mandela and activists of the African National Congress who brought about the peaceful transition to a non-racial, democratic society in 1994, thus ending cultural boycotts, which had deprived followers of attending live jazz performances.
During the day, our group visited Liliesleaf farm, once a hub of the South African Liberation Movement, where Nelson Mandela and prominent leaders were arrested. Today, the farm is a world Heritage site.

To gain entrance to the Apartheid Museum, visitors classify themselves as either white or non-white, an initial illustration of what segregation was like in South Africa between 1960 and 1994. Since the museum’s opening in 2001, visitors have been visibly moved while viewing photographs, newspaper clippings, personal artifacts and illustrations of the treatment of all non-whites during this disconsolate South African period.
The former neighborhood of political campaigns against the apartheid state, Soweto was the home of Winnie and Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid activists. Nearby is the museum and memorial to 12-year old Hector Petersen, whose death during a student demonstration in 1976 sparked the Soweto uprising, a movement that spread throughout the country. Today, areas of the township are undergoing gentrification. Homes cum restaurants like Chez Alina in Soweto’s Dobsonville provide friendly service and freshly prepared African meals for visitors.

Although renowned for its tumultuous history, South Africa is known for its big game as well. Within an hour after arriving at the 90-room Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge, I was sitting in a safari vehicle watching an African leopard laze among reeds in the late afternoon sun.
The lodge is located on the outer rim of an extinct volcano in the heart of malaria-free Pilanesburg National Park, two hours’ drive from Johannesburg. Guests can view big game from a safari, the dining patio, cocktail lounge or the 400-foot underground tunnel, which links to a blind.
With the assistance of rangers like Johnathan, not only was I able to capture images of the “Big Five” (leopard, black rhinoceros, African buffalo, lion and elephant) in three excursions, I also snapped shots of white rhinoceros, zebra, impala, giraffe, Bushvelt buck and baboon.
One evening a cheetah, intent on hunting an impala for dinner, used the safari vehicle as a blind by crawling beneath it. I hung over the side. Huge paws appeared below me. Soon after, so did its head. It looked up, saw me and sped into the bush. I didn’t take the slight personally. Having been hunted nearly to extinction, cheetahs are wary of humans.

I didn’t feel the least timorous rotating 360 degrees in the circular cabin of a cable car while ascending to the top of Table Mountain the next day, where I captured extraordinary views of Cape Town.
We arrived in Cape Town in time to check into the Tsogo Sun Cullinan Hotel ( before sampling the popular culinary delights the Cape is known for: fresh oysters and the moist, white, Grouper-like kingklip at the sprawling, popular V&A Waterfront complex.
In addition to seafood, Capetonians appreciate full-bodied African coffee, and the Shift Espresso Bar in Green Point serves it strong. For those who prefer a sweet treat while strolling along the charming, colorful Bo-Kaap Malay quarter, koeksisters, the traditional Afrikaner confection can be found at Biesmiellah Restaurant (, while closer to Cape Town, in the Constantia Valley, varietals and the finest Sauvignon Blanc can be sampled at such wineries as the Steenberg Farm.

Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the V&A Waterfront, the exquisite six-story Silo Hotel ( sits above the extraordinary 100,000 square-foot Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA). The repurposed 19th century Grain Silo is the largest museum of contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora. The mission of the museum, suggested Cape Town-born curator, Mark Coetzee, is to “allow Africans to tell their own story.”
Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Jacob Zuma and others spent much of their lives incarcerated at Robben Island, using lavatories to exchange ideas and to assist inmates with their literacy skills. Tours are conducted by freed prisoners who live on the premises and relate their stories.

Before I saw them, I heard them. The braying sounds came from Boulder Beach, where two-foot African Penguins waddled and honked along the dues and ancient granite rocks. Visitors walk along a boardwalk without disturbing the penguins’ daily routine of doing what penguins do: fish for anchovies and sardines in the protected area up to 10 miles from shore, mate, and raise their young.

This year, from Johannesburg to Cape Town, travelers will celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela. For more information about the country’s diverse offerings, visit, follow @SouthAfrica on Twitter and @VisitSouthAfrica on Facebook.


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