When I think of Soweto, my mind immediately goes back to the news headlines blazed across the front pages of my Melbourne newspapers during the 1970’s & 1980’s with graphic images of racial riots during the days of apartheid in South Africa. It always appeared to me that Soweto was memorialised as representing the very heart of this issue. Images of white’s only signs, segregated areas and riots flood through my mind.
During my last visit to Soweto in 2013, I visited an apartheid museum where many of the pictorial photographs brought all the memories of that terrible time back. By the time apartheid reached it peak, I was a father of four young girls and the thought that people could treat each other in such appalling ways, all supported and approved by the government of the day was such a world away from my world.
I know things are different now and apartheid is well gone as a result of the work of men like Nelson Mandela and others over the last 20 years, but then again, it is only 20 years and can things change that much ?
This is now my third trip to Soweto since 2013 and I never ceased to be amazed at the incredible transformation that has taken place over the past twenty years.
While driving to the Soweto Hall for a Bible Seminar, Bro Paul Verster and I stopped to pick up Bro Lucky on the way. Lucky, a black South Africa young man of 23 years of age endeared himself to me from the first time I met him, when he proceeded after a Bible Class I gave, to resite the whole of Colossians 3 from memory. When Lucky saw me get out of Paul’s car, his face lit up like a Christmas Tree and that stunning smile of his beamed right across his face. His unique South African accent boomed out his very excited greeting. Already, it was so good to be back in Soweto.
When we arrived at the Soweto Ecclesial Hall, which is a reserved and secure class room in an Public School Building, the people had started to gather as a major clean-up was taking place after the classroom had just finished having a new ceramic tiled floor installed. There was no lack of volunteers and willing workers cleaning and reinstalling all the furniture and equipment that belonged to them.
During the course of these activities, familiar faces, both back and white, arrived with warm, welcoming grins and hugs and old friendships were renewed. These faces were very familiar to me, but their names in most case had long gone. Many new faces introduced themselves for the first time with typical African warm and welcoming hugs. Many also remembered Glenn and Crissie with their three boys, Ollie, Max & Huddy while Moses was still in Crissie’s tummy at this time.
As I sat and contemplated being in Soweto, my thoughts again go back to those apartheid days. Who would ever thought that just over twenty years later I would be sitting here and chatting with black and white South African in Soweto in the same room ….. Miracles do still happen !!!
Everywhere I go in South Africa, the people that I have got to meet and know are always so happy, so cheerful, so welcoming and so sincere to see you again. This is the case in Durban and it is the case again here in Soweto. There is clearly something special about South Africa and South Africans. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go. When you come to South Africa, you become part of South Africa and a part of South Africa leaves with you when you go !!!
And man, do they love their Bible and study classes. The “God Master Plan” class was packed with only standing room left on Saturday afternoon. And these people don’t live around the corner. Many walk or travel long distances to get to these meetings and classes.
After the seminar presentation was completed, we broke for afternoon tea and then resumed with a question and answer competition where we were all divided into four teams. There were twenty questions to be asked and answered and then corrected. Although I was censored from answering any questions for my team, some helpful careful advice to carefully re-read the questions and the multiple choice answers proved telling as our team won with a perfect score of 20 from 20 !!!
The following day, we returned to the hall for our Sunday Memorial Meeting and the following Bible Study Class where I gave both talks. On this occasion I spoke mainly on John 12 (the daily reading) for the Memorial Service and on the events and time period between the Old and the New Testaments’ for the Bible Class. They seemed to enjoy them, although it was hard to tell with most asleep after the first five minutes of me talking each time !!!
This was just a quick, short two day stay in Soweto. It was sad to leave, but God Willing I will return again later in the year and this time stay for a week or more. But to see everybody again after nearly two years was fantastic and the renewal of friendships is priceless.
A great “Spurs Restaurant” Steak Lunch with Bro Paul and Sis Leonie after the Sunday meetings was a magnificent way to end this little trip. The drive home brings mixed feelings. The time was too short in Soweto, but there is lots to do back in Durban over the next two weeks before I return to Australia for a short time to catch up with family and friends.
The drive from Johannesburg to Durban is a great drive. It’s about 600 klm with a 120 klm speed limit ….. and some of the scenery is absolutely beautiful with stunning mountain and rock features, the Drakensburg Mountains, Waterfalls and very “African” rolling ranges as far as the eye can see.
After the long drive, home is a welcome sight … although where is home these days ? I guess home is where the heart is ….. and the new South Africa is where black and white unite. It was only a short trip on this occasion, but it was such a pleasure to see and experience Soweto united with both black & white’s all together !!!