Soweto

Soweto, deriving from South Western Township, was established in the 1930s to remove native people from the capital cities and neighboring areas. The first permanent housing erected in this area were the mining houses: long dormitory-style buildings where only men and mineworkers could live. The nearby goldmines are all but exhausted but the large yellow mine dumps and long, narrow mine houses still stand in the area as a reminder.

The heart of Soweto was always a thriving hub for artists and musicians but it has since become a hub for bars and restaurants with influencers driving sports cars vying for attention.

The little that the community does have is shared. Residents tend to solve problems internally preferring not to involve local authorities. The communities themselves are often quite varied with residents from several ethnic groups and from various different African nations. South Africa has 9 official languages and many more ethnic groups. South Africa is also the second wealthiest nation in Africa making it a refuge for many people throughout the continent.

The children are the most heartwarming aspect of the township. Their smiles and friendliness is incredible considering how little they have. The day I visited this township a young girl was electrocuted trying to pick a peach just like the one the boy is holding in the photograph. She climbed a fence to pick the fruit from the tree and, unfortunately, the makeshift electric wires that are fashioned by fearless township electricians had killed her. Life is especially hard for kids because they are often left to their own devices or in the care of an older relative or even slightly older sibling.

There is always life around the small stores and local sellers. The people of Soweto are kind and welcoming despite the hardships they face.

An iconic photograph of Hector Peterson, a 13-year-old boy who was gunned down by police during a peaceful protest held by Students in Soweto. The students were protested unfair education laws during the 1970s Apartheid period. The site of the incident is now a museum and memorial to the students who risked their lives to speak out against inequality and injustice. The words of Hector Peterson’s parents are engraved at the site, sharing their profound sense of loss and strength.

The interesting thing about visiting anywhere, no matter how foreign or different the culture is from your own,
are the similarities and signs that show how much we, as humans, are all very much the same. With similar hobbies and ways of expression, which is illustrated so nicely by these young men skateboarding down the street that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived on—a street in a township with 2 Nobel prize winners

With scarce opportunities for residents, people set up simple businesses and barbecue stands to earn money.

Wherever you go in the township you see smiling children. This young girl is running an errand for her aunt; she stopped to check out the candy on her way home.

Pictured is a community leader who also works at this community center for young people in one of the
townships. The community center provides one meal a day for 500-600 students. The center has a television room, a small computer lab and a few classrooms where students are free to attend after-school programs. The programs teach basic computer literacy, language and math as well as acquiring trade skills and driving licenses. The young people who attend the classes are encouraged to complete courses, which will hopefully assist them when seeking employment. Photographs of successful graduates of the programs are enshrined on noticeboards to inspire the students—many of the young people lucky enough to have benefitted from this community become life-long donors to the center.

Only 7 or 8 feet above the ground is a network of wires that have been coiled together to draw electricity from any accessible source nearby. The wires are not particularly strong and the currents they carry can be very high. It is a dangerous job to install these wires and the township residents often joke that people who run the wires are not afraid to die. The wires power lights and small household appliances.

The mural depicts the students protesting, holding placards and throwing stones while the police look on with their guns and dogs. In reality, the crowds were far bigger and in truth it was protests like this that signaled to the world what was happening in South Africa and eventually led to independence in 1994.

Images and Text by David Dredge (daviddredge.com)

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