PROJECTS: SOWETO: SOUTH AFRICA
SOWETO: The heartbeat of South Africa
Soweto, or southwestern townships, was founded over one hundred years ago outside Johannesburg, South Africa, under British authority. It was established as the first settlement for black and colored people on the outskirts of the city. During that time Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines near Johannesburg and were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of town.
The growth of the township of Soweto was accelerated by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities under the Apartheid regime after 1948. Soweto grew to be the biggest township in the country. Far away from work and housing, the township consisted of hostels for men, simple huts and corrugated tin shacks.
Today, Soweto is a development hub and consists of 32 townships and the official population is around one million. Many believe it’s much higher, some think as high as 2-3 million. I worked in Soweto for the first time in 1994 while covering the first democratic elections. Soweto has always been my favorite part of Johannesburg. Soweto has a rich history and is infamous for the political violence during the Apartheid struggle. Of those the violent student uprisings in 1976 are maybe most known to foreigners, where students from the township rose up in protest against Afrikaans as the only language used in the education system. The South African regime answered to the protests by shooting at unarmed children dressed in their school uniforms.
This event sparked a re-awakening of black resistance and many of the important developments at the time happened in the township. Many of the key players in the struggle era lived and operated out of Soweto. More than 30 years later Soweto is a city of growing enterprises and a wild mix of culture, with several high-end shopping malls, a brand new world class theater, car dealers, parks, improving transport and brand new townhouses and apartments that sell like hot cakes. I have been based in South Africa for the last 10 years and have always gone back to Soweto whenever I could on assignments or to see friends. I am fascinated with his fast changing pace and its growing prosperity. Soweto is seen by many as a model of hope for the new South Africa. It is no longer a place of doom and gloom but a place of hope. It has of course its problems with high levels of poverty, unemployment and crime, but the positive developments are beginning to filter through. The few last years have brought a lot of investments to Soweto and many people now enjoy modern shopping malls, banks, restaurants and trendy bars. Many of the old shacks have been erased and thousands of small government subsidized houses have been built. Because of new investments, many residents of Soweto now start to spend most of their time and money in the township.