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Pole to Pole

Day 125: Johannesburg

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleThis is the grim first impression of Soweto, but as soon as you look beyond the physical differences, beyond the outrageous disparity between the quality of surroundings in two cities so close to each other and so dependent on each other, there are plenty of signs of life and hope. I am here to visit a family from Soweto who were once our neighbours in London, and who have recently been allowed back into their own country. We are accompanied by a Sowetan called Jimmy, who has made a good living from guided tours of the area. Jimmy, full of wisecracks - he tells me in Soweto BMW means 'Break My Windows' - is by turns charming, congenial, garrulous, curt and businesslike. He is a professional and a survivor. He offers breakfast at his house, which is a long way from the traditional image of the tin-roof shack.

It is approached through wrought-iron gates and past newly-planted jacaranda trees. Inside is a fitted kitchen with all mod cons hung with pictures and paintings. He is particularly proud of a personally signed copy of a Robert Carrier cookbook.

While we eat breakfast he is constantly on the phone doing deals of some kind. He breaks off just long enough to give a public wigging to Roy, the gardener, who has arrived half-an-hour late this morning.

'Blue Monday,' nods Jimmy as Roy retires chastened, 'the people here they just drink all weekend long.'

I ask him if there are any whites in Soweto.

'Oh sure . . . twenty per cent of the taxi businesses here are white-owned . . . there's a lot of whites work at the power station . . . there's an area there called Power Park which has a lot of white residents . . . '
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 125
  • Country/sea: South Africa
  • Place: Soweto
  • Book page no: 277

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