My journal. Africa Trip, March 9 – April 6, 2016

Africa Trip, March 2016 Tour of Soweto

We went on this tour on Sunday, April 3, 2016. The tour is offered by a backpacking outfit with a hostel in Soweto.

It began around noon with a lunch of bread and stew, in my case a vegetarian that was quite good. Our table:

Then we jumped into the backseats of two tuck tucks. I was with Margaret and Katie while Eric went with Kyle and his best buddy, Rowan, son of Ann and Kelsey, best buddies in turn of Eric and Margaret. They live “upstairs” while MnE and KnK live downstairs, and together this set of seven constitutes what they call the Tribe. The tuck-tucks:

Our two guides, Lungeli and Phili, speak to us from this vantage point overlooking the present Soweto:

Soweto is the best-known and most significant township in South Africa. Townships are special living areas established for the blacks by the whites. says this about Soweto:

It was back in 1904 that Klipspruit, the oldest of a cluster of townships that constitute present day Soweto, was established. The township was created to house mainly black labourers, who worked in mines and other industries in the city, away from the city centre. The inner city was later to be reserved for white occupation as the policy of segregation took root.

In the 1950s, more black people were relocated there from "black spots" in inner city Johannesburg - black neighbourhoods which the apartheid government then reserved for whites.

This 2009 picture from Wikipedia, taken by Kevin Gabbert in 2009, gives an impression of the place that fits with my own after three hours of walking and driving through:

Our guides took us first to some very shabby and ill-kept areas among the many that are home to 1.2 million people at the present time. The normally dismal conditions were made worse by a garbage collector strike that had been ongoing for some days, weeks I think, when we got there. Adults sat in small groups outside the tiny homes and often smiled and waved at us. Some glared. There were lots of children about, and they inevitably ran up smiling and wanted to give us fives or touch our clothing. There was no begging.

This touring around in poverty made me feel very uneasy. The guides reassured us that the locals appreciated the fact that we were there learning about the history and their present conditions. I still felt plenty uneasy. Here are some of my own photos, mostly gathered quickly and inconspicuously as we walked along.

This is a store offering “flix” and water as well as hair salon services. The house behind the store is larger than the usual here. Perhaps the owner of the shop. The iron fence is not common, but no doubt needed for security.

Phili gives history and insight:

A girl peeks around the corner as we walk along towards a communal water source (behind windows on left). In this part and most parts of Soweto and the other townships, the residents do not have running water or toilets in their two-room homes. The water on the dirt road is from leaky sewage pipes not far underground and not well maintained.

Only recently have the streets in the townships been given names (they now appear on Google maps). The roofs are an asbestos material that makes it expensive and/or dangerous to change them out. Not sure what risk there is for the residents.

Here’s a produce store:

Community toilets.


Vaida, Margaret and Eric’s domestic help, told me that the men standing in the background of this photo were gambling, likely craps. The ones closer to our tuck tuck were drinking beer. It’s Sunday, but in fact the men mostly lack employment. Many more women can find work as domestics and the like.

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