The heartbeat of South Africa
Soweto, or southwestern townships, was founded over one hundred years ago outside Johannesburg, South Africa, under British authority. It was established as the first settlement for black and colored people on the outskirts of the city. During that time Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines near Johannesburg and were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of town.
The growth of the township of Soweto was accelerated by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities under the Apartheid regime after 1948. Soweto grewto be the biggest township in the country. Far away from work and housing, the township consisted of hostels for men, simple huts and corrugated tin shacks.
Today, Soweto is a development hub and consists of 32 townships and the official population is around one million. Many believe it’s much higher, some think as high as 2-3 million.
I worked in Soweto for the first time in 1994 while covering the first democratic elections. Soweto has always been my favorite part of Johannesburg. Soweto
has a rich history and is infamous for the political violence during the Apartheid struggle. Of those the violent student uprisings in 1976 are maybe most known to foreigners, where students from the township rose up in protest against Afrikaans as the only language used in the education system. The South African regime answered to the protests by shooting at unarmed children dressed in their school uniforms.
This event sparked a re-awakening of black resistance and many of the important developments at the time happened in the township. Many of the key players in the struggle era lived and operated out of Soweto.
More than 30 years later Soweto is a city of growing enterprises and a wild mix of culture, with several high-end shopping malls, a brand new world class theater, car dealers, parks, improving transport and brand new townhouses and apartments that sell like hot cakes. I have been based in South Africa for the last 10 years and have always gone back to Soweto whenever I could on assignments or to see friends. I am fascinated with his fast changing pace and its growing prosperity.
I am now planning to move to Soweto for a couple of months to complete my ongoing project about the rapid changes in South Africa’s most famous township.
Soweto is seen by many as a model of hope for the new South Africa. It is no longer a place of doom and gloom but a place of hope. It has of course its problems with high levels of poverty, unemployment and crime, but the positive developments are beginning to filter through.
The few last years have brought a lot of investments to Soweto and many people now enjoy modern shopping malls, banks, restaurants and trendy bars. Many of the old shacks have been erased and thousands of small government subsidized houses have been built. Because of new investments, many residents of Soweto now start to spend most of their time and money in the township.
Most of them still work in Johannesburg, but now they don’t have to buy groceries and bring them back in mini bus taxis. More and more people have their own cars and buy everything close to their homes. Soweto has lately been in the midst of a property boom, where every property for sale has several potential buyers and it’s usually sold within days.
Many newly rich blacks left the township in the 90s for the northern suburbs, where traditionally only affluent whites lived. Many live there in mansions with high walls and tight security. Many only know their neighbors by name. It has been a difficult adjustment for most. Added problems are the high crime rate in affluent suburbs, such as hour breaking and car high-jacking.
Many who left miss the vibrant life in the townships and they usually came back to visit on the weekends for family gatherings and funerals, or they just come to wash their new BMWs at a car wash, while having a few beers with their childhood friends in tendy bars.
Soweto is increasingly a source for new fashion, art, music styles in South Africa. It is a great microcosm to show the many facets of the new South Africa.
I would be very happy to share this journey with you!
For serious supporters of this project I will offer a workshop in Soweto where we will live, work and breath in this massive, vibrant place closely. We will also work on a photo project and you will also be able to get a close and unique insight into how I work as a photojournalist. We will be completing projects and I will share my insight and experience of many years of working as a photojournalist around the world.