Lily Blog-South West Township: Soweto

                When we got the itinerary for the trip, my dad was beyond excited for me to visit Soweto. He made sure I knew exactly what it was and all of its history. He tends to make jokes and I did not really believe most of what he was saying because it what he was saying about Soweto sounded ridiculous. I was ignorant when he told me that this township was built to separate the blacks from the whites. He also mentioned how Afrikaans influenced a major riot from students in the township, because the government wanted to make that the language students were taught in. Afrikaans is the language that the white South Africans speak. I knew the Apartheid was recent, but I did not think that this specific instance took place in 1976 (Ben). With the United States’ history of segregation, I thought this would not be as recent as it was. With what my dad told me, I was excited to explore the township of Soweto.
We got on the bus this morning with a friendly greeting from Ben, a Soweto native and our tour guide. He began giving us a brief history on where we were going, telling us that Archbishop Tutu and Mandela lived only 110 meters from each other. He also clarified why South African cars have the wheel on the right side and not the left like us. He said it is because the British conquered riding their horses, holding the horse with the left hand and the sword on the right. He also told us about the mining, and that Johannesburg is named after a French and Irish man.
With that history, he told us a few important things to keep in mind. He said to always say hi back to people. He also added that we must ask to take pictures of people before we do so. Once we got into the township, there were beautiful homes. He mentioned that there are very distinct social classes in Soweto. Before listening to Ben, I thought that Soweto was built during the Apartheid regime. I was very wrong, as it was founded in the 1930s (1). It was founded when gold was being discovered; they did not pay good money to the workers so they had to live where it was cheap (Ben). This encouraged cheap labor. Driving around Soweto, there were very long buildings that when described were hostiles. Ben mentioned that they were divided by gender, six hostiles for men and one for women. This was because most men did not bring his family here. Men wanted to give themselves and their family a better life. Men would fight about showers because there were only five showers and toilets for 100 people (Ben). If a man wanted to avoid conflict, he would have to wake up early to do so. However, the conditions in the hostiles are still not great. It is interesting to note that most people did not start here, which is why the cemetery is very small. Ben said that his parents are from different places, so that when they died they wanted to be buried in those places. We then made our way into “real Soweto” according to Ben. “Real Soweto” are houses with two to four bedrooms. The big houses came after the first democratic election (Ben).
While driving around the township, I noticed a lot of men and women walking around with shopping carts filled with things, whether they were garbage, bottles or tires. Ben mentioned that people in this township do whatever they can to survive, which often means stealing. He brought up that if a person notices they have a missing tire, they can buy it back from the person that stole it. Recycling is a huge business.
To understand how big this township is, you have to know this: this hospital is the biggest in Africa, there are 7,000 beds and 750 doctors (Ben). There are 52 high schools, 98 primary schools, and 80 technical colleges. There is also one university. There is a mall that employs a lot of residents. ESPN sponsored a church and Nike funded a recreational center in 2010 during the World Cup (Ben).
We then went to the Hector Pieterson museum along with Mandela’s house. The Pieterson museum taught me about the school riots and how important it was for Afrikaans not to be the language. Mandela’s home proved how powerful and influential he was. I loved seeing how many honorary degrees and citizenships he got. I liked seeing the letter from the Toronto mayor, because that is where my family is from. 
Going to Soweto reminded me of when we went to Langa Township. Langa did not have the mall and major stores, but it did have the community. When we went to Langa, I felt very bad about looking at how poor this township was, almost like I was being paraded around. The conditions in most of the area were not amazing, there was glass everywhere and a lot of garbage on the floor. It was scary to see the children running around with no shoes on. Despite this, they all seemed very happy. Everyone we walked past gave us a huge hello. I loved when the children ran up to us to hold our hands and hug us. Despite their living conditions being subpar, they seemed much happier than how I would have been. 

In Soweto, they also had a great sense of community. When we were walking with Ben down one of the streets, there were a bunch of men sitting at a table. The men saw Ben and gave him a plate of food and a cup. It goes to show that even though some people do not have the most money, they are still able to share and be happy. That is the main lesson I have learned from my time here in South Africa is that no matter how little one has, life is not over and it can be made into the best it can be.
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