(HH KKS: 10/2007)
Soweto with its 2 million people, is the heart of South Africa, the stage of oppression for Black South Africa. Where in 1976 african high schoolkids protested against education in Afrikaans instead of their own language, a protest which was crushed by the local police firing bullets in to the crowd. That day Soweto had enough and the revolution began. Soweto today is going through face-lift, it has the second biggest shopping mall on the African sub continent, and it will host the 2010 Soccer Worldcup finale in Orlando Stadium. Still there are plenty of people living in tin sheds in extreme poverty. ISKCON has had a small temple there since 1995, run by Mahaprabhu, a dedicated Sowetan disciple of Giriraja Swami, who maintains a regular Food for Life program. On October 13 & 14 a historical event took place, Lord Jagannatha’s Ratha Yatra festival came to town. Amongst the crowds were several busses of African students from all over the country and also many schoolkids joined in as well as devotees from all over South Africia and many more local people..
Andrew Whitlock, a reporter wrote the following;
“Soweto residents were treated to a new experience at the weekend when the first ever Rathayatra (chariot festival) was held in the township. The colourful festival has been held in India for thousands of years and has also been held in most major cities worldwide. Hundreds of Hare Krsna devotees from around the country, descended on Soweto to follow the three-metre high chariot through the busy streets, and were joined by excited residents, many of them young children. The first Rathayatra was held in the West some forty years ago after the International Society for Krsna Consciousness (Iskcon) founder, Srila Prabhupada, brought Krsna Consciousness to America. “We are very happy that this event is taking place in Soweto for the first time” said Dobsonville resident Lehopo Lechaba. “You are promoting God and that is great after all the crime and violence we have had here. I really like what I am hearing today,” he said.
After a short journey through the streets the chariot, carrying five of Iskcon’s leading spiritual masters arrived at Mofolo Park, where guests were treated to a free lunch and an afternoon of singing and dancing.
It was quite a happening on the open air stage in Mofolo Park. Besides powerful kirtanas by various sannyasis, and the famous plays of Bhakti Marga Swami, there was also ample opportunity for local talent to perform on the stage with lots of Hip Hop, traditional Zulu dances and more Local TV celebrities came and the band Dhira from Europe was a big hit. It was very nice that everyone got an opportunity to actively take part in the festival and make it their own. Our guess is that Ratha Yatra has come to Soweto to stay!