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Soweto'd

We headed off this morning buoyed by our red bus experience in the CBD yesterday. Today we were setting off to explore Soweto an English abbreviation – South Western Townships.

We stopped at FNB Stadium – Soccer City – home to the Soccer World Cup. Its an awesome stadium and i was bummed that we only got a a quick outside look at it.

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Soccer City

From here we headed into the heart of Soweto.

I had been into Soweto once before in 1996 in a tightly controlled visit with a friend of the ‘family’ i was staying with. Its a visit that has stuck in my mind for many reasons and i was keen to revisit.

Unfortunately by this time, in my opinion the tour guide was a pretentious arrogant little muck that was more concerned about making sure we knew that he was middle class, lived next to a well-known South African singer chose to still live in Soweto like he should have a medal and that millionaires chose to make Soweto their home.

I have seen the shanty towns, the slums whatever you might want to call them, i had been into Alexandria and Soweto before, i had been to the creche’s that support HIV/AIDs orphaned children in Alex and in rural areas so i know the pure poverty and lack of water and sanitation that exists. i also know that these have not miraculously disappeared – have they improved absolutely, are there now areas of middle and high class that could be slotted into other Jo’Burg suburbs absolutely, but to spend almost the entire 2 hours of the tour focused on which millionaire lives there, what they own and how Soweto doesn’t need Jo’Burg because we have car yards and malls was complete rubbish.

We drove past tin shack areas, we drove through areas where the huts don’t have water and sanitation, so for me to completely disregard and gloss over these disrespects the struggles and triumphs of others that have come before and what they have achieved for Soweto and South Africa and for those that are still there struggling, trying to make ends meet, sitting on waiting lists for new housing or just trying to get by.

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Orlando Power Towers
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Orlando Stadium

We stopped at Hector Pieterson Memorial where we greeted by a community volunteer – ie not being paid by the tour company but you are handed over to them, and expected to put your hand in your pocket for their ‘speech’ on the memorial – I’m sorry but i hate this, if the tour company wants to use locals with local/history knowledge then pay them and if we like them we can tip them!

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Hector Pieterson Memorial

We then stopped at Nelson Mandela’s house – but the tour didn’t give time to go through, you needed to stay with the community guide at the memorial the stop before – only no-one told us that, so all of us on the tour wanted to go into the museum for Mandela’s house but couldn’t. The bus driver then suggest we walk down the block to Tutu’s house, and wouldn’t you know when we get there, there are some dancing zulu boys, again with cap in hand. By this time i was pretty pi*sed, this wasn’t a tour it was a set-up and the loathed “Africa”.

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Soweto Hotel

For me the tour should have had a mix of the poverty/low class, the middle class and the high class. it should have show cased a world renown teaching hospital in Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, reportedly the worlds third largest hospital and a hospital that supports several million people, the shebeens and the real people.

The renowned shebeens i would have thought to be a vital part of any tour into Soweto. Historically shebeens have been located in townships as an alternative to pubs and bars, where under apartheid, indigenous Africans were barred from entering pubs or bars reserved for those of European descent. Shebeens also provided music and dancing, allowing patrons to express themselves culturally. They are now legal in South Africa (well most anyway) and have become an integral part of South African urban culture. We were really looking forward to having a beer and feed in one so to not even come across one was very ordinary.

So overall i was extremely disappointed and pretty annoyed at the tour, it became apparent that this tour has latched onto the other red bus but is not directly part of the “hop on hop off” enterprise.

So that’s my rant over .. if you want to know some history of Soweto and why we would be interested in going there keep reading if not stop here!

The history of South African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of black South Africans by city and state authorities. Black South Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that were established after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg, such as Brickfields (Newtown). In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed black South African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an “evacuation camp” at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague. Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935.

After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained power in 1948 and began to implement apartheid, the pace of forced removals and the creation of townships outside legally designated white areas increased.

In 1956 townships were laid out for particular ethnic groups as part of the state’s strategy to sift black Africans into groupings that would later form the building blocks of the so-called “independent homelands”.

Soweto came to the world’s attention on 16 June 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government’s policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium. The rioting continued and 23 people died on the first day in Soweto, 21 of whom were black, including the minor Hector Pieterson, as well as two white people, including Melville Edelstein, a lifelong humanitarian.

The impact of the Soweto protests reverberated through the country and across the world. In their aftermath, economic and cultural sanctions were introduced from abroad. Political activists left the country to train for guerrilla resistance. Soweto and other townships became the stage for violent state repression.

In response, the apartheid state started providing electricity to more Soweto homes, yet phased out financial support for building additional housing.

In Soweto, popular resistance to apartheid emerged in various forms during the 1980s. Educational and economic boycotts were initiated, and student bodies were organized. Street committees were formed, and civic organizations were established as alternatives to state-imposed structures. One of the most well-known “civics” was Soweto’s Committee of Ten, started in 1978 in the offices of The Bantu World newspaper. Such actions were strengthened by the call issued by African National Congress’s 1985 Kabwe congress in Zambia to make South Africa ungovernable. As the state forbade public gatherings, church buildings like Regina Mundi were sometimes used for political gatherings.

In 1995, Soweto became part of the Southern Metropolitan Transitional Local Council, and in 2002 was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg

Many parts of Soweto rank among the poorest in Johannesburg, although individual townships tend to have a mix of wealthier and poorer residents. In general, households in the outlying areas to the northwest and southeast have lower incomes, while those in southwestern areas tend to have higher incomes.

The economic development of Soweto was severely curtailed by the apartheid state, which provided very limited infrastructure and prevented residents from creating their own businesses. Roads remained unpaved, and many residents had to share one tap between four houses, for example. Soweto was meant to exist only as a dormitory town for black Africans who worked in white houses, factories, and industries. The 1957 Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act and its predecessors restricted residents between 1923 to 1976 to seven self-employment categories in Soweto itself. Sowetans could operate general shops, butcheries, eating houses, sell milk or vegetables, or hawk goods. The overall number of such enterprises at any time were strictly controlled. As a result, informal trading developed outside the legally-recognized activities.

By 1976 Soweto had only two cinemas and two hotels, and only 83% of houses had electricity. Up to 93% of residents had no running water. Using fire for cooking and heating resulted in respiratory problems that contributed to high infant mortality rates (54 per 1,000 compared to 18 for whites, 1976 figures.

The restrictions on economic activities were lifted in 1977, spurring the growth of the taxi industry as an alternative to Soweto’s inadequate bus and train transport systems. These taxis line the streets and suburbs of Jozi and are renowned for their creative hand signals signalling where they are traveling too as well as their driving skills and rules 🙂

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