I felt uncomfortable upon arriving to the first township tour. I wasn’t sure how to act, or what I should do or say. As an American, we just don’t have anything to which are similar to these communities which lead to me searching for something similar, and in the US that would be a poor neighborhood, a ghetto of some sort. But that’s not at all what a township really is and because of that, so few even try to experience the beauty that lies within a township. I was confused as to why the residents were so welcoming and willing to open their homes to complete strangers. In their world where they have to little they were such happy people.
Townships are holdovers from apartheid, when non-whites were forced to live in large communities, such as townships. All townships around South Africa evolved over time, many of them turning into small cities. Unlike a real city though, townships lack key aspects of infrastructure. Things such as sewage, universal running water, and well-organized electrical grids are lacking in these large areas. Townships are evolving and many, like Soweto, have distinct sections home to middle-class individuals as well as the very poor. Our tour guide mentioned Kliptown was the area of Soweto for the millionaires and billionaires. On the other hand, there is most definitely poverty in a township, but that poverty doesn’t define it.
The contracts created from racially motivated land tenure policies were officially abolished in 1994, following the democratic election that brought the African National Congress (ANC) party to power, but there still exists a class barrier that follows ever since the apartheid era. This class barrier is clearly shown in both major cities Cape Town and Johannesburg. In 2007, according to a report by the Johannesburg-based consultancy FutureFact, 55 percent of black adults lived in townships, and more than 40 percent of these were members of the working class. As white only areas have opened to other races, the biggest post-apartheid population shift has been the movement of black middle-class residents from townships to formerly all-white suburbs, enabled in part by growth in the black middle-class (Shapiro). And yet the report found that 81 percent of residents living in townships planned to continue living there. It may be that the new generation growing up in townships have adopted the communities as the new norm. Many can’t afford to leave. A township we recently visited was Soweto. Soweto occupies only 10 percent of land in Johannesburg but has over 40 percent of the cities population (Mafika). Soweto is transforming into an important hub of commerce with political power. We drove by one of the many large malls in the township that allow the residents to buy almost anything within walking distance. According to author Rachel Bray in her book “Growing up in the new South Africa: Childhood and adolescence in post-apartheid Cape Town.”, the government has built more than a million new housing units, they keep expanding the townships by building houses on the lands that are on the edges of township. This creates challenges for residents when accessing jobs, transportation, education and commercial goods (Bray). The gap that physically exists between the once former white cities and the former black townships remain evident. What used to be a racial divide has turned into a class divide.
As my time comes to an end here in South Africa I am most grateful for the experience of going to each township. There is an awkward beauty I found from the time I first arrived to when I left the final township. After being welcomed into homes that are smaller than most of our garages, it’s awkward to then pile back into a van to be whisked away to a five-star dinner. I believe that it is okay for the experience to feel awkward at times. And to be unsure as to how to react or even what to say and do. This country is unique in so many ways. By being able to see the clear division in class by living conditions, South Africa is honest. By encouraging tourists to visit townships, I believe that they were so inviting because they want to show the people of the world that they should not feel pity or even embarrassment, but instead see the beautiful country a little bit better. I believe this course has really taught me what South Africa is about. It has helped me understand the people, their past, how they’re adjusting and where they’re going.
Bray. “Growing up in the new South Africa: Childhood and adolescence in post-apartheid Cape Town.” (2010).
Mafika. “South Africa’s Population.” Brand South Africa. N.p., 05 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/people-culture/people/population.
Shapiro. “The New Urban Geography: The Changing Face of Suburbia.” FutureFact (n.d.): n. pag. 13 May 2007. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. http://www.futurefact.co.za/system/files/filedepot/2/Presentation%20.