Monday, March 2, 2009

Soweto Crawl

If you’ve done the Soweto Heritage route, seen Mandela’s house and the Hector Peterson Memorial, there’s something new on the tourist map. Take a Soweto shebeen tour with the Soweto Rhubuluza. Boarding the minibus you get a goodie bag with a tomato-red vuvuzela, some wors, a cap, a CD with an eclectic sampling of music. Hang onto the vuvuzela, you’ll be making a lot of noise, and that’s all part of the fun. Start drinking on the bus, the cooler box is packed to the brim. It might also be a good idea to include some hangover remedies, guys.

Billed as a team-building exercise for companies, Andrew Law, director of Simkile, who runs the company, showed our media group a DVD of a rather rowdy bunch of workers who had been taken on the shebeen crawl for the day. Bonding there was aplenty.

The shebeen crawl takes you to six shebeens, all varying in style and sophistication. Mathula’s Inn had a few regulars propping up the bar on this Friday afternoon. Situated in Diepkloof Extension (or you may want to say Diepkloof Expensive), it’s all rather dark and gloomy at first, but that just adds to the slightly dingy atmosphere of the place. En route to the next shebeen, you drive past the Ellias Motsoaledi squatter camp, as well as the brightly coloured Soweto cooling towers, icons in their own right.

Next stop is The Shack, the appropriately and delightfully named shebeen. Set at the back of a house in a real tin shack, you can shoot a few rounds of pool, listen to the blaring music, or take a load off outside under the green awnings. A sign tells you to leave your problems at the door, and that doesn’t seem so very hard to do here. Next up is Wandie’s Place. It hardly needs an introduction – Wandies seems as well known overseas as locally.

Wandie’s is lined with messages from all its patrons, as well as curling bank notes from all over the world, and business cards that have been stuck to the walls. Food is rice, as well as green salads, pasta salads, cold sweet potato salad and fish. In Mofolo North you’re taken to a traditional shebeen, Bra Pat’s Place, for a sip, in my case, of sour beer, or Jozi beer. This shebeen is behind an informal spaza shop, right in a dark corridor behind a house. Sit on the rough wooden planks along with the other patrons. It’s late Friday afternoon and the drinking had started hours ago. As dusk fell over Soweto, and the township started humming with commuters and dwellers returning home, we made our way to The Rock for sundowners.

“Everybody goes to the Rock,” said tour guide Gugulethu Buthelezi. Started seven years ago, this nightclub has a huge roof area for jolling the night away, as well as alcoves for smokers. Owner Tebogo Motswai said The Rock attracts 50 percent of its patrons from outside Soweto, a figure that pleases him as it means people are partying in the township even if they don’t live there. “Decision-makers come to Soweto,” he said. “People get tired of town,” he added, referring to anywhere outside of Soweto as town.

We didn’t stay long enough to really see the place pumping, it was early still as we headed back to the bright lights of “town” – but as Tebogo cheerily waved us goodbye, you could tell the night was still young.

(Published in The Sunday Independent, June 2006)