Soweto Changed Me.
As soon as we arrived in Soweto we were led to the dining section to eat. Bunny Chow was on the menu, which is a chicken stew in a bread bowl. Delicious! A series of huts shielded us from the sun as we dipped our bread into the well-seasoned stew and drank water to cool off. About 5-chickens surrounded us clucking around the premises. Hello Soweto!
One of the first things we learned in Soweto was the Zulu greeting Sani Bonani. It’s what everyone says to each other, whether you’re friends or strangers, like an acknowledgement of some sort. We decided to do a bike tour in and around Soweto, which allowed us to spend time with the locals and learn some history. The name Soweto, is an acronym which stands for South Western Townships. Soweto is home to very famous South Africans including: Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, and Desmond Tutu.
- If you’re looking for a bike tour in Soweto, I highly suggest the Soweto Backpackers. The tour was freaking amazing and taught us so many things. The tour guides became some of our good friends by the end of the trip. We loved everything about them. http://www.sowetobackpackers.com/
The discovery of Gold during the late 1800s in Johannesburg is what added so much value to this city. However, colonizers from all over the world including the Dutch and the British exploited the country and its people of its resources and enforced a system of segregation that would have lasting effects on the culture and race relations for years to come. An increasing number of blacks were evicted from the city of Johannesburg and forced to live in the surrounding townships like Soweto. Allegedly, many blacks were evicted because of a government induced spread of the Bubonic Plague. These townships were underdeveloped and unsanitary. The government tried to further their oppression in Soweto by separating the men from the women. This would reduce reproduction among blacks.
We progressed through the neighborhood, despite learning all these hard truths and noticed that the locals were filled with joy. Big bright smiles covered their faces. Some even told us how proud they were to see black tourist (that was the funniest thing ever). There was such a unity in Soweto; the atmosphere gave me so much energy. The people were so friendly. They danced for us, and surrounded us. They commented on how funky my Biggie Smalls shirt was. I felt like I was home, with my brothers and sisters. I was so content.
Yet, I could not ignore how impoverished my people were to this very day. Walking past the local grocery store, I stepped over their sewage, draining throughout the village. The people had communal bathrooms that they shared. The babies were in need of shoes. One of the little girls had on a skirt that was 3-sizes too small and exposed her. The homes were tiny. I couldn’t fathom that people lived in those conditions. I felt helpless but their smiles and their zest for life encouraged me.
The legacy of Apartheid is alive in Soweto. You really see the effect that this system had on black people. The unemployment rate is over 53%. There are abandoned apartment buildings that are the equivalent of $50 USD a month, but remain empty because it’s not affordable for the locals.
Yet there is hope for Soweto. My tour guide was 27-years old, born and raised in Soweto and he is smart enough to be the president of South Africa one day. He loves his people and he knows the dire situation they are in. We talked politics and Malcom X during our tour. He was well versed in America’s grim political situation as well, laughing at the prospects of Trump becoming president. He took us to a spot where in 1976 the Children of Soweto began protests against the government, because of the introduction of Afrikaans. Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor and they did not want to assimilate to their culture. Many of these students lost their lives at the hands of police. One of the most notorious of these students was Hector Pieterson whose lifeless body was carried by Mbuvisa Makhubo and his sister Antoinette Sithole.
By the end of the tour, it was time for us to learn about Zulu culture. We dressed up as Zulu Kings and Queens and drank from a canteen filled with a traditional Zulu beverage, that sort of tasted like a beer. It was a spectacular end to an overall empowering day.