Poverty lingers but things are changing in Mandela's birthplace
On this page:
SOWETO, South Africa (CNN) -- Soweto gained the world's attention when it became the center of the anti-apartheid movement.
An acronym for "Southwestern Townships," the birthplace of President Nelson Mandela and South Africa's freedom movement encompasses 33 townships in the Guateng Province southwest of Johannesburg. Now home to more than 3 million people, it covers about 40 square miles (104 square kilometers) of flat, dusty terrain.
Its name first registered on the world's consciousness after the Soweto Rebellion of 1976, when white police attacked black students protesting the fact that the white Afrikaans language was used for instruction at Soweto high schools.
Although reports of crime in the townships have caused many travelers to bypass them, more adventurous visitors are now taking tours.
Many visitors take driving tours that let them see the world of the township from a van window. But there are tours that allow you to get out and interact with the locals.
Taking a 'face-to-face' tour
Jimmy Ntintili runs "Jimmy's Face to Face Tours," which he calls a journey through "the good, the bad and the ugly" of Soweto.
Ntintili's tour includes a stop at the memorial to the children who died during the 1976 uprising and in the riots that followed. It passes Mandela's former home, now a museum, in Orlando East, Soweto's first township. Visitors also glimpse the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela's mansion, which was built after the Mandelas' first home was firebombed.
The townships that make up Soweto originated from slums and shantytowns that were the homes of black laborers who migrated from rural areas, particularly between World War I and World War II.
In modern Soweto, almost half the residents are unemployed and there is much poverty. Although Soweto's people are no longer confined by the rules of apartheid to living in townships, many can't afford to live elsewhere.
People living in poverty
Jimmy Ntintili introduces visitors to Soweto's people -- on our tour, an extended family that included a mother, her children and grandchildren, all sharing three shacks. The men in the family are usually working or looking for work.
"This is the kind of people we feel need to be educated because life cannot be lived like this," Ntintili said.
Although some visitors worry that they are exploiting the people of Soweto when they tour the area, Ntintili tells them the locals enjoy seeing visitors. He suggests they give sweets to the children or buy items from adults.
"Don't give money to the people in the streets of Soweto. It's not helping people," he said. "We don't want you to convert people into beggars."
Formal development has been slow in Soweto. There is no central business district. There are no malls.
Signs of prosperity emerge
But there are schools, soccer fields, churches and a massive hospital, where Ntintili said a baby is born every five minutes.
There also is wealth amid the poverty.
Ntintili's tour stops at one of the beautiful brick homes that line the streets of Prestige Park, an area that is home to Soweto's growing middle class.
His tour ends at Soweto's first coffee shop.
Ntintili's township tour and others like it educate visitors -- but some hope that they will not exist in the future.
"We would like to see townships disappear altogether and have an integrated city in which there are no divisions determined by race," said Pallo Jordan, South Africa's tourism minister.
| SUN CITY  | GETTING THERE |
Back to the top
© 2000 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.