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Soweto Township, South Africa

My visit to Soweto

In November of 1997 I visited the Soweto, a black "Township" west of of Johannesburg, South Africa.

The story of Soweto

Soweto was created early in this Century when after an outbreak of illness, the authorities determined to separate blacks from whites, and move blacks away from Johannesburg, to an area separated by white suburbs by a so-called cordon sanitaire (or sanitary corridor). Logic has it that the name stands for "South Western Townships" but some feel it came from the relocating residents asking "So Where To?"

Today, by the results of the current census, Soweto has over six million residents. Those who are employed (and 60% are not) find work as domestic help in white suburbs or work in services or factories in Johannesburg and its environs. A few work in the gold mines in the nearby Rand (or ridge) area. New businesses are now blooming in Soweto, including The Rock, a club which is now expanding to other cities in South Africa.

The Rock, a new club in Soweto

Soweto's Districts

Soweto is not a single homogeonous area but is separated into many districts. In one, called Diepkloof and Diepkloof Extension live many of the township's millionaires (yes, there are millionaires in Soweto!). Most houses in Soweto are four room brick structures fairly sturdily built. People can now buy these homes and some can afford to extend them. Other parts of Soweto consist of shantytowns. I visited one famous shantytown known as Mandelaville. You can see pictures of Mandelaville below. Another famous part of Soweto is Orlando West which is the home of much of the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) including Nelson Manela and his ex-wife Winnie.

Soweto in the New South Africa

The New South Africa has affected life in the townships in many ways. The police and army crackdowns of the past are a memory. Black-on-black violence between the groups, such as IFP and ANC supporters is less now but continues. Unemployment remains high while opportunities are opening for Soweto residents to own their own houses, start businesses and move into positions in corporate, government and other sectors of the economy. Crime is rampant with car theft, break ins, and murder all on the rise both within and outside township areas. Illegal immigration from other parts of africa have put a huge strain on South Africa's efforts to improve living conditions in the townships.

The Internet in Soweto

Soweto is struggling with providing basic services including portable toilets to its poorer districts. Roads are not bad and most homes have electricity. The first Internet is available at the college and university and other locales in Soweto. After meeting Tom Baloyi of the National Science and Technology Education Trust (NSTET) Soweto Technology Project at an education conference in Cape Town, I hope to provide their Internet centers in Soweto and other townships with tools to allow kids to connect with people from all over the world. Our concept is to help kids build a Soweto World and allow them to invite other kids in-avatar into their world. One concept is to link disadvantaged kids from schools in Oakland, California, through to the Soweto kids via the Internet and the IANAT center in Madeira. One must remember that schools remain largely without flush toilets, furniture and electricity. So, where is the balance? Perhaps South Africa must place a higher priority on the basics but not fail to move forward on more advanced services like Internet.
See some Images of Soweto below..

If you would like to contact me about this or any other projects, feel free!
Bruce Damer

Images of Soweto
Click on the images to get a larger view

Soweto Taxi Rank,
largest in the world (1 million a day!)
with the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere
in the backgound (1500 babies a day!)

View of Soweto from the Taxi Rank

Soweto Streets where a sea of humanity flows

Our guide, Lovemore Phophi Mulaudzi
in front of Wandie's Place,
Soweto's 5-star restaurant

Memorial to the events of June 16-July 16 1976

On June 16, 1976, students left school in Soweto and other areas to protest the requirement to learn Afrikaans, replacing English, in the sub-standard Bantu education system. English was seen as a language of freedom, connecting Africans to the larger world, while Afrikaans, a South African variety of Dutch, was seen as the language of the opressor state, the then ruling National Party. Police opened fire on the students, killing first young Hector Peterson (seen below). This unfortunate series of events lead to 14 years of unremitting violence in the country, culminating in the events of 1990, including the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and others and the transition to democracy.

At the traffic circle where the students were fired upon in 1976. A memorial to fallen children. This reminds me of posterboards of disappeared or imprisoned persons that were erected in Prague in 1990 after the fall of communism there.

Names (and dates of death) of children felled in township violence

Makeshift museum of containers being opened for our group. Each container contained a photo gallery describing the events of 1976.

Photo from the Hector Peterson memorial galleries.

Hector Peterson, first victim of the police action

Orlando West, birthplace of the ANC

Orlando West neighborhood, the good side of Soweto

In the garden of the house of Nelson Mandela, this very day opened by his ex-wife Winnie as a museum.

Police near Bishop Desmond Tutu's residence awaiting the arrival of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to open her former husbands former house as a museum

The home and compound of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Mandelaville, the ugly side of Soweto

View of Mandelaville shantytown showing the newly installed porta-toilets

Mandelaville residents happily posing for my camera

Orphanage in Mandelaville. Many of these children were born HIV positive.

The Barcelona Shabine (bar) in central Mandelaville

Unfortunate family at Mandelaville 5-1157

NEW! A contributed photo from Phil Blatherwick of Nottingham England
taken on his more recent trip to Soweto in Sept 1999

Click here for More of Phil's Pictures!
Ladies who have just collected water from a stand pipe serving over a thousand people

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