Monday, February 11, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There has always been a stigma about townships in our country. They're unsafe, you'll get mugged, you'll get kidnapped and killed, some taxi driver with no licence will run you over.
Well I have a little something to say about the above, or at least about Soweto - South Africa's most famous township.
For lack of a better way to say it, it's absolutely not what you think!

Last Friday, our school sent us on a day trip to Soweto. I for one was so excited! I'd been there before, but not on a cultural historical tour.

Our guide's name was Simba, and from the moment we met him, he was definitely quite a character. He speaks all 11 official languages of South Africa(SA) - all 11 official languages - and he is Zulu himself. I found it rather funny how he described King Shaka as the black Napoleon. (Chuckles)
He explained to us that in Soweto, life and living fell into three categories. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Soweto itself was created in 1904 to house "native" gold miners, and to this day people of all 11 tribes of SA live there. 

The Good of Soweto is the bacon and eggs for breakfast faction, and I'll say, some of those houses were quite swanky.

You'd be surprised though at the very apparent line between the Good and the Bad. I'm not talking about a figurative line here. I'm saying that literally, the right side of the road is good, and the left side borders on the... not so good.

After driving around a little, we stopped at a market in Eastern Soweto, right beside the infamous to the public, famous to international medical practitioners , Baragwanath Hospital. Personally, I think the place looks like a prison, but nevertheless, the market we stopped at also happened to be the home of the largest taxi rank in SA, with 10 000 taxis working out of it.

We clambered out of the bus to walk among the people and take a look at the view from the bridge. Some of my more, how do I say this, sheltered classmates were going on about how they were scared and didn't want to come out of the bus. Seriously? I mean they payed for the tour, so they might as well fully participate. Oh well... Here's the view:

The instant I walked off the bus, the first vibe I had was one of complete naturalness. It felt so average. Nothing sinister or alarming at all. 

Climbing back on the bus, we drove off to go and see Winnie Mandela's house - Nelson Mandela's previous wife. Understand this, on our way out of the market, there were three men taking pictures and videos of us! Ha! I guess we were a spectacle too.

Winnie's house, eh, nothing too remarkable except having flags of SA and various world countries pinned up in the front. 
She actually lives there as her permanent residence.

Afterwards, it was time for bungee jumping.
Off these.

Jokes. They are a bungee jumping towers though. 
The Orlando Towers were originally powers stations, but after being shut down because of the pollution they caused, they were turned into their current recreational purpose. You might not believe me, but these two humongous towers were painted by high school students in Soweto, sponsored by FNB.

Their pictures depict typical Soweto life. I was enthralled by the sheer brilliance of these art students! Incredible!

It was then time to see the Ugly, and boy, did we find out some shocking things.

These are some of the worst, but what the photo doesn't show is what the roof is made of. Including many of the Bad as well, 80% of the roofs in Soweto are made of Asbestos. It was first used because it was a cheap material to set up as shelter for the miners in 1904, but if you don't know this, Asbestos has been found as a known cause of Tuberculosis and lung cancer. 80%.
If you can afford it, you can pay for a new roof that won't kill you eventually, but if not, tough. Survival of the fittest is the motto of the Ugly.

We asked Simba about crime in Soweto. He told us that it wasn't majorly bad, but in city center was where one had to look out for the hooligan around the corner. I for one think the crime level in Soweto is a little worse than he was letting on, but he did tell us a local joke. What does BMW stand for? 
Be my wife, or break my window. (Shakes head, rolls eyes)

Our next stop, I guess sobering could work as a candid description-ary word. The Hector Pieterson Monument.

For those of you that don't know the history, in 1976, 16th June there was a uprising by the students in Soweto. The Apartheid government had put in a new legislation, enforcing the new curriculum of township schools to be taught in Afrikaans, a language the students did not understand in the slightest. Some were in their last months of matric and suddenly, they were forced to write their final exam in a foreign language and the classes had become so crowded that in some there were over a hundred students! So they took to the streets, holding signs saying "Bantu Education - To Hell with it", singing and dancing in their determination to have this policy thrown out and for a better education. 

The crowd grew to over 10 000 students. Approximately 50 policemen, after unsuccessfully trying to disperse the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets, then decided to open fire. The first person to be mortally shot was a thirteen year old boy named Hector Pieterson. The photograph of him, limp and bloodied, being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo with his sister beside them, taken by a journalist documenting the event has shook the nation and the world.
There are two photographs in particular than are sickeningly shocking.

His sister's cry, her wail, of grief and horror makes my heart sore. For Hector, for the 500 students that died that day, for it all. For it all.

The actual museum was excellently done, with video accounts of survivors, large black and white photographs spanning whole 10 meter walls, real protest signs in glass cases and TVs set up all around giving information on the build up and aftermath to the 16th as well as the actual event.
My largest heart grenades were firstly, the photo of a young child screaming while his mothers tries to rinse him of the tear gas that had entered all of his extremities, causing him a huge amount of pain. 
My second would be the amazing act of the journalists and motorists who helped collect the dead and wounded after the event. I think that what they did was a beautiful act of humanity amidst the total lack of it.
The last was a photograph of a man who had put his hand out, unmistakably to a police officer about to shoot, saying "Stop! Don't!" My soul mourns for this man. He was only doing what was right, and there he was, at the mercy of a small metal object inside a gun. From what I could tell, he survived, thank goodness.

The Memorial blocks. A barren, stony ground with granite bricks strewn over it with glaringly white lettering engraved on them. Kgaye Kabelo. Jacob Mhapi. Unknown. Thank you all.

A sign that one of the students in the protest photograph held really stuck with me. It's something we should all hold in out hearts. "Today for us all"

Sobering. That's what it was.

And it was off to Nelson Mandela's house. He doesn't physically live there anymore and none of the furniture is real because while on Robbin Island the house was petrol bombed. Twice.
Ahem, well anyway, we didn't go in, but right outside were two guys doing something called a Panzula Jive. These guys were a little more like contortionists though. I took a video.(Smiles)
I don't think that it would look too good though, but here is another version of the jive.

Great Gatsby! Interesting isn't it?

We also walked down the street there to see what everything looked like.

It was so normal. It felt like walking down a street. I wasn't afraid I was going to get mugged; It was just... normal.

Do you know that South Africa is the only country in the world that has two Nobel Peace Prize winners living on the same street?
Guess who lives right down the road from ol' Madiba?
Desmond Tutu of course!

South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, who rose to fame during the 1980s as an oponent to Aparheid. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

A personal friend of the Dalai Lama

Oh! And who might that be putting a medal around Desmond's neck?

Being naughty school girls, we rang his doorbell. 
Nobody answered, but two of my friends made quite a moving speech to the receiver about how he is an fantastic inspiration to us all, etcetera, etcetera. Good times.

It was then time to head back home. Soweto had embraced us for the day, and we had embraced her/him/it right back.

Goodbye Soweto. Hope to see you soon.