Soweto Storytelling Night

Soweto Storytelling

Lebo’s backpackers

Stories hold within them the ability to transform situations, recall lessons and share knowledge. It is through the power of storytelling that we are able to find light in life’s experiences.

The last Thursday of the month is storytelling night at Lebo’s backpackers in Soweto. The entertainment area opens up for an evening of storytelling around the fire and elders and ordinary community members share their insights and experiences, past and present, of life in South Africa. Continue reading

Rediscovering cycling in Soweto

Soweto Bike Tour

The preparation for my riding experience begins.

I first heard about the Soweto cycle tours from my mom of all places. She’s one of those people who doesn’t just wonder what’s going on but rolls down the window and asks. I did the tour a while back and it’s been sitting in my drafts box, which it turns out has a lot of good stuff waiting for me to click publish already. My tourism month resolution is “Clear My Drafts Box!”


I find Lebo’s Soweto backpackers nestled opposite a quaint park with benches and a thatched oasis. The walls are bright and colourful. The mood is festive and homely at the same time. The tour is obviously on a bicycle and I haven’t ridden a bike in years. I’m hoping that the age old idiom “it’s like riding bike” holds true. That is, I’m hoping I really can still ride a bike.

I confidently climb onto the bike, swiftly push against the floor and watch in horror for a moment as the wheel spirals out of control forcing me to momentarily doubt that idiom. As I gain speed, my legs take over and I am thankfully convinced that it is in fact like riding a bike.

Summer Parks

Every time I pass this park in Orlando its green. It is across the road from Lebo’s with a kids play area and plenty of space, it’s nice place to sit and relax.


Dressed in a large, red rain poncho is our bubbly guide Sol. He hands us our helmets, welcomes us all to Soweto (and to others South Africa) and proceeds to give us our safety talk: “Keep left…Any questions?” Too excited to ask any questions, we head of up the road.

Our first stop is a local shebeen. Sol introduces us to ‘umqombothi’ (sorghum beer) and carefully explains how it is made. We then discuss the history of the area over a calabash of ‘umqombothi’. We’re told that the alcohol content is so low that you would probably only get drunk if you sat all day drinking. Unbeknown to Sol, his theory is about to be proved correct as “Malume” walks in. Malume is a tall, weather (or alcohol)-beaten old man. Interrupting Sol, he proceeds to explain in a slurred manner his own history. Sol entertains him respectfully. We all laugh, ask questions and drink our sorghum beer. Malume tell us he’s been here all night and will probably stay most of the day.

We believe him.

The tour includes: a ride through neighbouring areas in various stages of development; a stop at Hector Petersen Memorial, elegantly guarded by a large Olive tree; a very tasty lunch of ikota followed by a much needed cold, refreshing drinks and a ride up Vilakazi Street to Nelson Mandela’s old house.

Our mood mirrors that of the children along the way who cheer us on with laughter and smiles. At one point, I spot Sol up ahead. He’s care-freely learning against a small gate.
“Oh, Sol, are we taking a break?” I ask.
“No, no just keep going?” he responds smiling.
“Um, why have you stopped?” I ask.
He smiles sheepishly and says “this dog here has a habit of chasing people on bicycles. So when I go you go”. But I’m already well on my way. That dog looks hungry to me.

The ride itself is relativity easy going, there are a couple of inclines here and there but none are insurmountable. There are plenty of interesting details to learn along the way as the area is steeped in history. Whether you are familiar with the area or not, it is a must do. There was a great sense of camaraderie amongst this group of strangers.

With my bottom firmly moulded into the shape of the bike seat, there were loads of laughter and relief as we finish off our ride, huddle around a table and sip on some sweet tea.


Drinks time!

We has a cup of tea because it was chilly but the island vibe inside is completely conducive to all kinds of beverages.


Backpacker profile:
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is situated in Orlando West, not far from the Hector Pieterson Museum and famous Vilakazi Street. It is locally owned and run. They run a whole host of activities in the area including bicycle tours.

Contact details:
+27 (0)11 936 3444

An Afternoon in the Oppenheimer Gardens

The tower was built in 1957 in honour of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer for his contributions to alleviating the housing crisis in Soweto.

The tower was built in 1957 in honour of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer for his contributions to alleviating the housing crisis in Soweto.

The Oppenheimer gardens (another one of those places I’ve passed and never entered) are in Central Jabavu, just up the road from the famous Morris Isaacsons High school, one of the meeting points of the June 16th march. They are home to the Oppenheimer Tower and the Credo Mutwa Village.  My mother and I decided to stop by and take a stroll. We were pleasantly surprised by what we saw.

Continue reading

Jumps, Jobs and Confusion

Going up the towers as a viewer and not a jumper is certainly not as nerve-wracking. Last time, I left my camera safely away from my shaking hands. This time around, it’s much easier to take in the view and chat to my guide; a friendly, safety conscious guy.
I’ve always imagined that people who work in these sorts of places are adrenalin junkies, seeking and following adventure wherever it calls. So, I’m quite intrigued to find out why he chose this job. Particularly because the way he’s holding onto the cage walls, makes me wonder if I shouldn’t also reach for the cage.