Yesterday, Colin + I spent just over half a day in what I can confidently say was a trip highlight for the both of us. We hired a driver who took us to one of Johanessburg’s most well-known townships, Soweto. (Soweto stands for South West Township) It won’t be the most beautiful place we visit, but it will likely be the most important.
Much of the struggle against Apartheid played out in Soweto and the community spent the 70s and 80s in a virtual state of war. Today Soweto is a mixture of rich suburbs and poor squatter villages where crime can be prevalent. But Soweto is also home to some of the most vibrant + authentic culture in Johannesburg.
Our tour started in the upper-middle class section of Soweto that began developing in 1994. Howard, our rockin’ driver, explained that after apartheid when there was more opportunity for residents of Soweto, many wanted to remain in the only neighborhood they knew which led to this new growth. From their we transitioned to the squatter village where we were given a personal tour by one of the residents, Desmond.
From the moment we arrived the joy and sense of community displayed by the residents was infectious. There was laughter, kids playing, and friends gathered around every corner. Not what you expect from a neighborhood with no electricity, one water-spout per ‘street’, and 60% unemployment. We were warmly welcomed into the home of Lillyuana and her family. She spent time talking with us and giving us a glimpse of their day-to-day life.
After we went to Lillyuana’s, Desmond took us through a bit more of the neighborhood, and our rather adorable “groupies” continued along with us.
The tour was coming to an end and I have to say I wish we could have stayed the entire day. But, moments that make you see life in a new way are often like that. Before leaving we were able to shop at their market, and I was able to purchase my first mask of the trip from Paulina. (She may just give the best hugs ever.)