Wednesday, July 29, 2009

South Africa 2009: Soweto and the Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg. Egoli. Some call it the murder capital of the world, and its electric fences, panic buttons and armed response security teams are enough to make the hardiest traveller wary. But it was a relief to get back after our experiences in the hell that is Swaziland, and on the Barberton goldfields. We chartered a private jet (see above) to transport ourselves and the massive pile of ivory, lion skins and looted Boer arms back to civilisation, and landed ourselves on the doorstep of Vivian and Derek, the highest echelons of Gauteng glitterati.

Vivian and Derek live in unimaginable opulence, and think a week is wasted if they haven't managed to trash a Ferrari or fill a hot tub with Cristal Brut. God knows why they agreed to host us, perhaps they needed to do some charity work to write off some tax. Nevertheless, they are two of the finest chaps imaginable who didn't even blink at the foul stench we were emitting after nearly four weeks of non stop campaigning.

Chateau Vivian aux Derek
We had barely had time to have our illegal ivory and diamonds confiscated by the authorities when we were on the road again - to the uncharted territory of Soweto!

Our first stop was the Apartheid Museum, documenting the rise and fall of apartheid and 20th century South African history.

Alex, wondering whether he is about to commit a major faux pas.

Inspired, thinking about the massive museum that will be built to commemorate our huge victory over the Boer.

Vivian and Derek making a casual offer to buy the entire Apartheid Museum, all its contents and the land on which it stands.

Some shots of apartheid stuff.

A solitary confinement cell - not university accommodation, despite similar appearances.

Derek doing time.

Onwards, to Soweto!

Bandit country!

Viv and Derek engaged the services of a shadowy figure to act as our guide. He answered to the name Xobo, but later denied having ever heard the name Xobo before. A large part of the tour involved him driving past sights at speed, often shouting "Get on the floor!" as he slammed his foot on the accelerator, or doing high speed U turns.

Firing a pistol out of the passenger window.

As a result, most of these pictures were taken from the car window, under fire, so I hope you appreciate them.
Get a lawyer? After I have got some body armour, methinks.

Pretty much our only stop was Walter Sisulu Square (billed as "South Africa’s first township entertainment explosion centre"!), site of an impressive monument to the Freedom Charter. Xobo didn't get out of the car himself - instead, he kept the motor running and covered us with his pistol as we ran bent double to the monument.

An eternal flame burns in the heart of the monument - lit by former president Thabo Mbeki, his spokesperson said "The flame will not go out even if it rains". Truly a noble monument to a historic document.

The eternal flame. It has been put out because neighbourhood kids were at risk of getting burned. It's health and safety gone mad!!

The gentleman on the right is the best reason to go to Soweto.

He gives you the lowdown - straight, as it is.

He won't prettify the history, or make it 'family-friendly' or water it down.

He doesn't go mental at kids playing all over his monument...

...and he play's the national anthem...


Vivian, calculating how much champagne it would take to fill the monument.

The Regina Mundi church. It's a tip, full of bullet holes and the altar's all smashed up. You'd think they'd fix it up, after all it's a major tourist attraction.

Local lad done good.

Local lads on their way to do good.

So we're tooling around Soweto and who should we bump into but Antoinette Pieterson, Hector Pieterson's sister!

Viv, earning the GDP of Burundi in the time this photo was taken.

Another day, another sunset. Truly it is by the grace of the gods that we survived to see so many!

God Squad, Yeoville. Apparently they're using decommissioned technicals to get around!

OK party people, we're drawing this baby to a close: not many posts left to come. But you can always go back:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

South Africa 2009: Gold fever!

Things were looking bad. We'd smashed up Adam's Calendar in a fit of rage, and were running out of money. We needed a new plan - fast. We were sat in the Old Rock Café, nursing our Windhoek Lagers and passionfruit cordials, when Alex turned to me with a glint in his eye.
"See those hills?" he said, gesturing toward the horizon.
"You mean those 75,000 year old pyramids?" I asked.
"There's gold in them thar hills!" he shouted with a whoop. Spurred into action, we tracked down South African Champion gold panner, Danny Brink - if there was anyone who could turn us into weatherbeaten goldhounds, it was he.
Danny Brink - a man with a pan.
We assembled at the crack of 3 o'clock in the shadow of the armed guard outside Agnes Mine. Danny's vehicle screeched up behind us in a cloud of dust and oaths, and after a swift altercation with the guard we were in! Illegal gold mining was going to be the making of us!
These boots were made for mining.
We were all set to get our hands on the dynamite, but Danny wouldn't have it. "Get your boots on!" he shouted, in a voice that would make a grizzly bear cry. Whimpering, we followed his instructions.

"Please don't hit me sir!" It was like being in the Foreign Legion all over again, but with gumboots.

Danny, showing us his 'Championship pan' - he can pan three tons of gravel an hour with this baby when he's in the zone.

Finally, we made it to the water's edge! After twenty minutes of instruction, Danny let us loose with the words "Any gold you find is yours to keep!" To stack the odds in his favour though, he started firing rounds from his rifle over our heads as we frantically scraped and scratched at the river bed.

Alex showing us how it's done. Danny described his technique as "stylish".

After three hours of freezing cold scuffing about in mud, all I'd found was a load of pebbles and had soiled myself several times. Danny's shots were getting lower, so by the end of the day we were almost prone in the river. Swearing like a sailor with pox, Danny leapt into the river and shouted that we were "a bunch of bleddy pansies!". Sweating furiously, his face turning bright red with the effort, he used his mini pan to whip through twice what we'd managed in three hours.

The gold we missed.

"One day, son, all this will be yours"

One day, all this mountain will be Alex's.

Chastened after a hard day's graft for a few flakes of gold which we spent getting liquored up on gin.
On the drive home we stopped the car a few miles out of Agnes mine. The sun was setting over a scene reminiscent of the Mekong. All that was missing was some Wagner and a load of Hueys. We stood for a while, openly weeping.

Later, we relaxed and unwound the only way we could (in the absence of putt-putt). That's right, Catopoly! It's a strategy game, loosely based on Risk, Go and US tactics in Afghanistan. I won the first round, but then - resting on my laurels - took my eye off the ball. Before I knew it, Alex had dominated the game, owning every species and had a litter box on every inch of the board! Oh noes!

Alex forgets all about the horror, the horror of Agnes Mine.

Full spectrum dominance!!

All this didn't solve the cashflow problem. On the verge of selling body parts, we turned to Mother for advice.

She took us to the Piccadilly Deli, where she is the local capo, and sat us down. I can't divulge what she said to us. But suffice to say we were going gold mining again!!

Alex, taking a moment to ponder the merits of what Mother has proposed to us.

er... some kind of flower.

The fruits of our labour! A mile and a half long tunnel, carved through the living rock, and yielding two ounces a ton of gold!

It had been a hard day's night, and Alex had been working, like a dog.

Finally, heading back to the Old Rock Café, one last time.
Next up: Back to Johannesburg!
Part 4: Drakensberg