Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Soweto: South Africa’s Largest and Most Famous Township

When Nelson Mandela died back in December, you may have heard about his roots in Soweto.  Soweto is the largest and most famous township in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Soweto is short for South Western Township.  A township is a black, shantytown settlement. During apartheid in South Africa, towns and cities were segregated by race and black citizens were forced to leave their freehold properties and move into townships.  For the most part, these townships were primarily overcrowded, under-resourced, and exceptionally poor.  As Amanda, Ashleigh and I have been driving around in Botswana and South Africa they have seen several of these shantytowns and been curious about them.  Since it is considered unsafe to visit one of these neighborhoods without the assistance of a local who lives there, I decided it best to organize a tour for us.  And since Soweto is the most prolific example of a township I elected to do the tour there.
The interesting thing about Soweto is that it is now like a normal city.  There are two million people who live there now.  Granted, a huge portion of Soweto is comprised of tin one-room houses in which 10+ people live in each without electricity or indoor plumbing, but they have middle and upper class areas as well.  For instance, Mandela’s second wife, Winnie, owns (and still lives in) a giant home in a neighborhood with manicured lawns, BMWs and swimming pools.  This isn’t her house, but this is an example of one of the upper class residential areas:
Soweto also has one of the largest, and nicest, malls I have seen in South Africa.  The best part of this mall is that it is 100% locally owned.  There is even a McDonald’s (far right side of pic):
Of course, the tiny shanties dominate Soweto:
We were able to walk through the township and even visit our tour guide’s home there.  He said there were about 1,000 shanties in this neighborhood and everyone uses ONE tap to obtain water.  The woman in the bright green shirt is using the tap in this photo while the other women are waiting their turn:
And here is the inside of our guide’s home:
As we were leaving the shantytown we saw this guy who was collecting discarded plastic bottles and cans to turn in to the recycling center for a few dollars.  He had amassed all this since the beginning of the day:
One of the last stops on our tour was the Johannesburg cooling towers.  These were part of the old power plant which is no longer in operation.  Instead, they serve as a giant billboard-type advertisement while simultaneously giving thrill seekers the opportunity to bungee jump:

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