I Left a Piece of my Heart in Soweto

Category: Budget , city , Culture
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A piece of my heart belongs to Soweto. A place of interesting people, authentic South African culture and a surprising sense of peace. With Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers as my base, I had an unforgettable experience which is not always easy to describe in words. But after reading about my experience, I hope many will be inspired to go and see it for themselves.

The massive township of Soweto is a well-known landmark of South Africa, both for its deep roots in the struggle for democracy and also for its vibrant mix of cultures found here. So, with my slight scepticism and little fear of the unknown I decided to explore Soweto for a few days… and what a revelation it was!

Firstly, it must be said that Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is located in the more developed areas of Soweto. Situated across an open park that has been transformed into a community park and open air restaurant, Lebo’s is a big surprise when one arrives. The inside area with bar, lounge and tables looks somewhat reminiscent of what one would find at a Jamaican beach bar. It looks tropical, yet distinctly African. The accommodation is neat, well-appointed just as good (if not better) as any other found elsewhere in the same price range.

What makes Lebo’s such an institution is not just the place, but the people you meet. While some of my fellow travellers decided to take a walk in Vilikazi Street (world famous street where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both lived), I decided to relax in the community park and observe the pleasant interaction of the visitors and the locals. Soon, I found myself engaging in conversation with two friendly men called Charlie and Smiley. They come to the community park every day after work to relax. Many questions and about an hour later, my fellow travellers returned and was welcomed into the conversation. These people has some of the most interesting stories about growing up and making a life for themselves – this will not be found somewhere else in the world.

When I say it safe in this area, I really mean it! Being such a popular venue, the community park was the setting for a video shoot the one evening. We were informed about this before booking, so this was not a bother to us. After eating our traditional dinner (beef potjie with mieliepap and a rather spicy relish), we decided to head to a local shebeen to see what it was like. Less than a kilometre walk, we got there. Cars driving by did not even look at the “white people” walking there after dark. A few hours later, we bid farewell to our new friends after playing many rounds of pool, chatting about where we come from and dancing on the newest and greatest Kwaito on the jukebox. This was unforgettable, and if I have the chance I will definitely return there. The locals are so genuine and friendly.

The community park itself, mentioned above, is a mix of open air restaurants (breakfast, lunch and dinner), tables and chairs to relax at, some local stalls with shirts to purchase, fresh fruit and then loungers standing around for anyone to relax in. It is difficult to describe the buzz and amount of activity during the day. Tourists stream in for activities such as bicycle rides during the day. Few of them stay over, but judging by the amount of people coming here, Lebo’s has no shortage of patronage. Before and after their activities, these tourists relax in the community park, amounting to large groups. It almost reminds me of a watering hole where all the animals of the area meet, in peace.

It is easy to say that I will return to Lebo’s in a heartbeat. I still have to do the tuk-tuk tour through the township (which shows an authentic glimpse of the lesser developed areas), and I definitely will enjoy the local cuisine which is prepared on open fire in pots, just like they do in the townships. Nothing here is staged or pretended, this is authentic South Africa at its best.

I can write many pages about the people I met here, the interesting things I have learned and the joy on finds by embracing the spirit true equality among these people. Yet, I want to stop right here and encourage you to plan your trip to Lebo’s right away. Getting a glimpse of South African culture does not get any better than this.

Best of all, I can now get here myself directly by travelling with The Mzansi Experience - they have an overnight stop here. Hop-On Hop-Off at it's best, stopping at the best! No car needed - what a bonus.

– This was an honest review by Leon Steyn, managing director of The Mzansi Experience. This is an independent account and in no way directly promoted or paid for by the supplier.

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