SOWETO: A CITY WORTH SAVING
Thursday, July 01, 2004
Soweto is an urban settlement in South Africa, located 10 miles, or about 15 minutes, southwest of Johannesburg, covering an area of 150 square kilometers (approximately 94 square miles). It is the biggest black urban settlement in Africa. Soweto is an acronym for South Western Townships, the collective name given to the group of townships in this area which developed into one big city as a result of South Africa’s policy of separate development areas for blacks. In 1991 the population of Soweto was estimated at 596,632 and in 1996 it was estimated at 1,098,100. In 2004, unofficially, the population count is probably closer to 4 million people.
The townships emerged at the beginning of the century when the gold mines on the Witwatersrand led to a large influx of black laborers seeking work. They were originally housed in compounds on the mines. But as the gold rush gathered momentum and the demand grew, there became a need for more settled accommodation. So the miners were housed in settlements outside the city of Johannesburg and away from white residences and suburbs.
As the mass urbanization of blacks from the rural areas increased, so too did the borders of these informal settlements until they merged into the sprawling mass that is Soweto. Soweto began as a shanty town in the 1930s and became the largest black city in South Africa. The township is famous for being the hotbed of political activism as blacks attempted to gain equal rights in South Africa.
On June 16, 1976, the township erupted into what became known as the Soweto Riots, when thousands of students staged a mass demonstration against apartheid that resulted in a battle with the police. The riots went on for days, and by June 21, 130 people had been killed, while 1,118 civilians and 22 policemen were amongst the injured. Reforms followed, but riots flared up again in 1985 and continued until the first multiracial elections were held in April 1994.
Soweto is a cultural melting pot which offers a startling cross section of abject poverty and surprising opulence. In Diepkloof, you can see the small shacks the locals call “matchbox houses,” many of which are the original dwellings of the first Sowetans. But you can also move into one of the many Diepkloof Extensions and get a look at the lavish homes of the emerging black middle class.
Orlando was the first township of Soweto, and was home to most of the famous
anti-apartheid activists. The tourist attractions here include Nelson Mandela’s first house, where he stayed until his imprisonment in 1961, and the mansion of his estranged wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela. This area was also home to other activists such as Walter Sisulu and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto is the largest of its kind in Africa.
The only way to see Soweto is through a recognized tour agency. It would be too dangerous to do so on your own, with even many black South Africans wary of traveling into certain parts of the township.
Even in this day and age, witchcraft is widespread in all of Africa. Witch doctors use the power of fear and superstition to control people. Africans live under a curse, because of their witchcraft and their idol and ancestor worship. They need to experience the power of God and know that it is greater than the power of the devil.
HIV/AIDS in South Africa
In South Africa, HIV infects one person in nine, and the number living with
HIV/AIDS—between 3.5 and 4.2 million—is the highest in the world.
About 500,000 South Africans already have died from AIDS-related causes, and projections based on the current growth rate of HIV prevalence suggest that as many as 10 million may succumb over the next 15 years. By 2010, a quarter of the general population may be infected, lowering average life expectancy from a pre-epidemic high of 65 to 48 years or less.
According to economists, because of the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on production and the costs of fighting the disease, South Africa’s economy may be 17-20 per cent smaller in the year 2010 than it might be without the syndrome. Also, a May 2000 government report on social conditions in South Africa estimated that HIV/AIDS will worsen poverty, while at the same time noting that limited access to health services, low educational levels and patterns of labor mobility within South Africa and the region tend to speed the disease’s advance.
These people need Jesus!