On the path of the "Struggle" In Soweto
Trip Start Aug 15, 2011
13Trip End Sep 02, 2011
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It really is a symbol for all South Africa has been through and for what it is becoming, but visiting there is a very sobering experience as you see first hand how people are still living in corrugated tin shacks (sometimes as many as 6-8 people in a space no bigger than a pop up camper) and when you visit many of the sights on the "Struggle" tour which takes you past the places that are iconic symbols of the struggles of the South African people.
One of the most famous examples of this is Soweto's Vilakazi Street which is the only street in the world which has the homes of two Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Close by, there is the site where 13 year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead when police open fired into the street on 16 June 1976.
Contrary to what you may think though, there is a substantial amount of affluent housing in the township, where many high-profile residents live, including Winnie Mandela. However, when you see the squatter camps, your poverty-gripes back at home will soon be put into perspective. Nothing I have ever seen in the US compares to the miles and miles of barely inhabitable housing which still exists in Soweto.The shanty town is grossly overcrowded; people share block toilets and families of eight may live with no amenities under one tin or plastic-sheeted shack the size of a garden shed. Barbed wire and chicken wire fence off rusting, leaking homes, while ‘roofs’ are held up on rotting wooden posts. A common sight is to see many people washing their clothes at the community faucet or getting a haircut on the corner by the one local barber while sitting on a "chair" made of boxes.
But for all the deprivation and violent history Soweto has, there is a real welcoming buzz and vibrancy to the area. I went wandering after our visit to the Pieterson Museum and ended up talking to a number of local people who were either selling crafts or standing around nearby. All of them were anxious to hear my impressions of Soweto and really stressed the hope they feel now as compared to the past when it seemed as though they had no future or prospects.
It is still a very foreboding place as evidenced by my trip to purchase water at the corner store where I had to retrieve it from a woman behind iron bars who handed it to me through the grill and then I walked to a grill and iron covered cash register area to pass my money through a bullet proofed drawer to the cashier. Yes, it is crime-ridden, dirty and at the grossly extreme end of poor, but when it was time to leave, I wished I’d had longer to get to know the township.