The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Soweto…

Subtitle – Remembering Sam

Today was the day I had been looking forward to for some time. I always wondered what Soweto (South West Township) was like. We have all heard the stories of the riots of the late 1970s and the incredible violence which occurred then, starting with the murders of 15 year old Hastings Ndlovu and 13 year old Hector Pieterson. We’ll get to that in a bit. But lets’s start at the beginning – getting picked up.

Louis is a very nice man – mid 50’s I’d say and quite soft spoken. He lives in Soweto. Driving out of the driveway the first question is “Why do you want to see Soweto?” Ok, is this a trick question? Am I in trouble already? So I say “Well, doesn’t everybody want to see it? Is there something else you would recommend?” I can back pedal with the best of them. “No no, we’ll go to Soweto but first a couple of stops.” The first one is Nelson Mandela’s house – the one he lived in after he got out of jail after 27 years. Louis wants to point out a couple of things – the first is the paucity of people on the streets at 10 on a Sunday morning in a heavily white community. We get a good talk on Mandela – how he never supported any of his children – neither before, during or after his prison experience; how when he came out many whites fled the country thinking he would be looking for revenge instead of expounding the peace and co-existence he talked about; how many of the young people today don’t understand the struggles he and others went through – they think he sold them out. It was quite interesting. Anyway this is the house friends of his bought he and Graça Machel (the only woman who has been married to two African presidents.)

Interestingly it too is behind a big wall.

The stones around the small plants on the boulevard all have of tribute messages which have been written and left there since his death in 2013.  (Keep this one in mind.) When he died he left an estate of about $3.7 million US$ and several properties. Just imagine how those children reacted. Much strife ensued.

From there (interestingly, one of those upscale mostly Jewish neighbourhoods) it was off to Soweto. Our first stop was in one of the upscale Soweto neighbourhoods. During Apartheid blacks weren’t allowed to live in the white neighbourhoods, but there were still many professionals who wanted nice homes.

There were many like this some with walls around them and some without – but none had barbed wire or electric fences.

Then we had our first look at the “real Soweto”. The buildings below are referred to as Hostels. Originally they were built to house the gold mine workers who were brought in from the country to work the mines. The mines are all gone now, but the hostels still remain and are lived in. It is hard to see, but the toilets are the Johnny-on-the-spots we all know and love. There are rows and rows of the hostels going up the hill.

Soweto Hostels

Here are five shanties – still being lived in. Slowly – and I mean slowly- the shantytowns are being replaced by the fourplexes behind them. As you can see below though, there are still many of them around.

Louis then showed us a community of newer homes. There are hundreds if not thousands of these around Soweto and if you look closely you see broken windows and inside vandalism. These are alongside the shantytowns. Talk about bureaucracy gone wild. The local governments have lists of people who qualify for these homes but it takes many months/years to go through the lists. In the meantime, people aren’t allowed to live in them because they have to be ready when the list says it’s time and so they get vandalized, stripped of things people can sell to support themselves (there is 27% unemployment in South Africa). Just insane!

Inside the fences are still hundreds of shanties and they “steal” the electricity.

Each of the lines you can see are going to someone’s home.

BTW, just for comparison, here is the junction of electricity lines in the upscale multi-million dollar homes neighbourhood we wandered around yesterday.

Same Same but Different

Okay a break in the Soweto history lesson for a bit and just some photos of what we saw.

Zimbabwean Hair Dresser – you know she is Zimbabwean because of the bright clothes, apparently

Just in case you’re driving by and need a new tire …

or maybe a bed or set of drawers. I love this – with the satellite dishes behind.

Want an adventure?

How about bunjy jumping ($55.00) from the now decommissioned coal-fired power stations? These two towers  belched out coal based smog from 1942 until 1998 in order to provide electricity for the whites of Johannesburg. Meanwhile the blacks of Soweto went without electricity until 1976 – but at least they got to live in the smog.

Good grazers. Since many people living in Soweto have recently moved from the country, they bring their goats for food and even sacrifice (really, according to Louis)

Playtime in the driveway

Okay back to the history lesson.

In the mid 1970’s the government of South Africa attempted to force black students to take their education in the Afrikaan language. This was a foreign language to them which was designed specifically to ensure they had difficulty learning the academic subjects and thus to keep them down. There weren’t even enough teachers proficient to teach the maths and sciences in Afrikaan. In 1976 for every white student the government spent somewhere in the range of 650 Rand and 42 Rand on blacks. Whites had all supplies, uniforms etc paid for, blacks had to buy their own. Classes of blacks could have up to 100 students and age ranges from 7 to 20.

On June 16, 1976 black students from elementary and high schools staged a walkout to protest the policy and were planning a non-violent march to a stadium to stage a rally. The police, fearful of violence opened fire, killing anywhere from a confirmed 176 up to a suspected 700. Two of these children were 15 year old Hastings Ndlovu and 13 year old Hector Pieterson. Hastings was killed during the march, but Hector was simply going home because the teachers had dismissed the classes.

Hector Pierson, Antoinette Pierson and Mbuyisa Makhubo.

Antoinette had gone home to check on her brother and when she discovered he wasn’t there started back to the school, only to come upon Mbuyisa who had picked him up after he was shot and was running to a nearby clinic, where he was declared dead. Many photographers were out that day and this iconic photograph went around the world – something the government tried to suppress. It was the first time the world in general saw what was happening with apartheid. Ironically, Antoinette does tours of Soweto and the Hector Pierson museum, which talks about the Soweto Uprising and we saw her there today giving a talk to a group. It was amazing how much she looked exactly like her photo from 43 years ago.

And now to move away from the history lesson. Those of you who have followed us for a while, may remember our trip to Hong Kong where we had some clothes made at Sam’s.

Roshan, Shirt cloth, Shorts, Jackets and Slacks

Well, thee we are in Johannesburg watching a CNN travel show and the host -Richard Quest – says “If you are in Hong Kong you must go over to Kowloon and get some clothes made at Sam’s” and off he goes into the shop and there they are, Sam and Roshan!

Enough for now. More about our first trip on safari later.



4 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Soweto…

  1. Lois and Gerry

    Very interesting, sad and somehow not surprising yo read the history lesson. Take care of yourselves. Looking forward to your safari saga.

  2. Jerry Dionne

    Geoff If you took a guided tour through Soweto You would not have enough change in your pocket to get to the other end of the town. Stay safe and enjoy..

    Jerry & Vivian

    On Mon, Apr 15, 2019 at 1:12 AM Penticton Purview (Formerly The Jiaxing Express) wrote:

    > ggwatt posted: “Today was the day I had been looking forward to for some > time. I always wondered what Soweto (South West Township) was like. We have > all heard the stories of the riots of the late 1970s and the incredible > violence which occurred then, starting with the mu” >


Leave a Reply