Results 1-4of 4 Reviews
December 30, 2006
From journal Jo'burg and the Burbs
January 21, 2004
First it's into the CBD (probably the only time you’ll go there unaccompanied too) to FtF’s office to pay; then it’s SWwards to Soweto (with a brief explanation of views from the window en route). Tours are popular and advance booking is through hotels or by email – FtF minibuses hold 12 people.
First stop is the Soweto minibus/taxi-rank where most folk catch transport to work – your guide enjoys interpreting the hand gestures, which signify one’s desired destination (palm flat=CBD; index finger raised=station). Stopping on the bridge, attention is directed to the vast hospital and you’re bombarded with proud statistics of how well Soweto is served. It’s even more entertaining to observe the locals coming and going -- less so is the “witch doctor” who talks you through herbal medicines and tries to part you from a few Rand to cure your bunions.
The drive takes you round various streets (compulsorily past chez Mandela/Tutu and Winnie Mandela’s current home) and the monument to Hector Pieterson, the Soweto schoolboy shot dead during the 1976 student uprising against compulsory teaching in Afrikaans (565 people died -- you’ll get a lot of statistics but they’re given in digestible portions, which makes them all the more shocking since you retain them all rather than going into overload). The tour ends in a shebeen (formerly illicit drinking den) for a welcome beer and chance to talk frankly with your guide about his own Soweto life.
Soweto housing is split into three distinct districts – called (by the Soweto-ians themselves) lower, middle, and upper class. Lower class is desperately bare and insufficient, and the raggedy children outside their school make you want to turn away. Middle class is tolerable and upper class quite palatial – it’s shocking that these co-exist so closely. Soweto’s greatest surprise is perhaps that things are not so desperate for everyone as you expected.
Jimmy’s publicity material boasts that FtF has taken a million people into Soweto (doubtful) but the guide was pretty well-informed, obviously knew his way around (hardly surprisingly given he lives there), easy to talk to and had his spiel off pat (if rather too much so). If it’s somewhat voyeuristic to photograph and gawp at, in some cases, the sad squalor, you can only console yourself that some of the money you’ve paid for the privilege is going towards maintaining the schools or churches.
From journal Johannesburg - a Jumble of Contrasts
In 1963, the acronym, Soweto, was adopted as a name for the burgeoning townships and so it has been known ever since. Synonymous with overcrowding and poor housing (shacks made of corrugated iron sheets are not uncommon), violence and high unemployment, apartheid planning provided little in terms of infrastructure and social services; it’s only recently that the democratic government has invested in installation of electricity and running water and drainage, as well as planting trees and developing parks and recreation areas. These days, a vast hospital is proudly displayed to visitors to Soweto along with any trip to the various types (or "classes" as astonishingly they are still called by Soweto inhabitants themselves) of houses.
Soweto’s apartheid years’ fame was also as a hotbed of political campaigns (and tragedies such as that of schoolboy, Hector Pieterson, shot dead in the 1976 Soweto student uprising) and as home to political luminaries such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu (two Nobel Peace Prize winners who once lived in the same road, Vilakazi Street in Orlando West).
The shock of Soweto is in both the very existence of the dreadful “tinny houses” (ie lengths of corrugated iron, welded together without windows or anything really serving as a door) without normal human amenities and the fact that these co-exist (albeit some streets away, divided by a road) with what are cheerfully called “middle class” and “upper class” houses (both of which are clearly recognisable as nice dwellings, albeit the middle class “2-up, 2-down” matchbox homes look rather snug for too many people). Whilst almost prepared for the ghastliness of the squalor of the most down-on-their-luck inhabitants, I hadn’t expected it to be cheek by jowl with comparatively palatial homes with window boxes and manicured, sprinkler-fed lawns, fancy brickwork and stylised window-frames. It almost makes it worse somehow that some of Soweto’s inhabitants are clearly doing very nicely. Some larger houses sub-let either the garage or the space outside the building itself to families or individual for a modest rent to supplement income (hence one of the difficulties in guaranteeing the census figures).
Soweto is both shocking and somehow consoling – people go about their business, children play in the streets or go and come from school with bags of books, old folks chat by the roadside; just like anywhere else in the world (or, at least, 100 other places in the world) but you can’t help wondering whether it will ever get any better. Maybe one day at a time . . .
by African Explorer
Johannesburg/ Fort Worth Texas, Texas
September 29, 2000
From journal Johannesburg South Africa