Monday, June 18, 2012


In my last post I described a visit to the Southwest suburb of Soweto. For interested readers, here is an overview of Soweto as published by Wikipedia:

The history of African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities. Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that were established after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg, such as Brickfields (Newtown). In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an "evacuation camp" at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague. Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935.

World War I

Industrialisation during World War I drew thousands of black workers to the Reef. They were also propelled by legislation that rendered many rural Black Africans landless. Informal settlements developed to meet the growing lack of housing. The Sofasonke squatter's movement of James Mpanza in 1944 organised the occupation of vacant land in the area, at what became known as Masakeng (Orlando West). Partly as a result of Mpanza's actions, the city council was forced to set up emergency camps in Orlando and Moroka, and later in Central Western Jabavu.

Baragwanath Hospital

The Imperial Military Hospital Baragwanath, named after Cornishman John Albert Baragwanath, was built in 1941 during the Second World War to serve as a British Military Hospital. John Albert Baragwanath initially owned the situated site as a hostel, The Wayside Inn, until the British Government paid £328,000 to make it a hospital. Field-Marshal Jan Smuts noted during the opening ceremonies that the facility would be used for the area's black population after the war. In 1947 King George VI visited and presented medals to the troops there. From this start grew Baragwanath Hospital (as it became known after 1948), reputedly the world's largest hospital. In 1997 another name change followed, with the sprawling facility now known as Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in honour of the South African Communist Party leader who was assassinated in 1993 by white extremists.

Government policy from 1948
After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained power in 1948 and began to implement apartheid, the pace of forced removals and the creation of townships outside legally designated white areas increased. The Johannesburg council established new townships to the southwest for black Africans evicted from the city's freehold areas of Martindale, Sophiatown, and Alexandra. Some townships were basic site and service plots (Tladi, Zondi, Dhlamini, Chiawelo, Senaoane, 1954), while at Dube middle-class residents built their own houses. The first hostel to accommodate migrant workers evicted from the inner city in 1955 was built at Dube. The following year houses were built in the newly proclaimed townships of Meadowlands and Diepkloof.
In 1956 townships were laid out for particular ethnic groups as part of the state's strategy to sift black Africans into groupings that would later form the building blocks of the so-called "independent homelands". Spurred by a donation of R6 million to the state by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1956 for housing in the area, Naledi, Mapetla, Tladi, Moletsane and Phiri were created to house Sotho- and Tswana-speakers. Zulu- and Xhosa-speakers were accommodated in Dhlamini, Senaoane, Zola, Zondi, Jabulani, Emdeni and White City. Chiawelo was established for Tsonga- and Venda-speaking residents.
In 1963, the name Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) was officially adopted for the sprawling township that now occupied what had been the farms of Doornkop, Klipriviersoog, Diepkloof, Klipspruit and Vogelstruisfontein.

Soweto Uprising

Soweto came to the world's attention on 16 June 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium, The rioting continued and 200 people, including two white people, died on the first day in Soweto. The first to be killed was Hector Pieterson, who was 12 years old, when the police began to open fire on the students. Another among the killed was Dr. Melville Edelstein, who had devoted his life to social welfare among blacks. He was stoned to death by the mob and left with a sign around his neck proclaiming "Beware Afrikaaners". The impact of the Soweto protests reverberated through the country and across the world. In their aftermath, economic and cultural sanctions were introduced from abroad. Political activists left the country to train for guerrilla resistance. Soweto and other townships became the stage for violent state repression. Since 1991 this date and the schoolchildren have been commemorated by the International Day of the African Child.


In response, the apartheid state started providing electricity to more Soweto homes, yet phased out financial support for building additional housing.
Soweto became an independent municipality with elected black councilors in 1983, in line with the Black Local Authorities Act. Previously the townships were governed by the Johannesburg council, but from the 1970s the state took control.
Soweto's black African councilors were not provided by the apartheid state with the finances to address housing and infrastructural problems. Township residents opposed the black councilors as puppet collaborators who personally benefited financially from an oppressive regime. Resistance was spurred by the exclusion of blacks from the newly formed tricameral Parliament (which did include Whites, Asians and Coloreds). Municipal elections in black, coloured, and Indian areas were subsequently widely boycotted, returning extremely low voting figures for years. Popular resistance to state structures dates back to the Advisory Boards (1950) that co-opted black residents to advise whites who managed the townships.

Further popular resistance: incorporation into the City

In Soweto, popular resistance to apartheid emerged in various forms during the 1980s. Educational and economic boycotts were initiated, and student bodies were organized. Street committees were formed, and civic organizations were established as alternatives to state-imposed structures. One of the most well-known "civics" was Soweto's Committee of Ten, started in 1978 in the offices of The Bantu World newspaper. Such actions were strengthened by the call issued by African National Congress's 1985 Kabwe congress in Zambia to make South Africa ungovernable. As the state forbade public gatherings, church buildings like Regina Mundi were sometimes used for political gatherings.
In 1995, Soweto became part of the Southern Metropolitan Transitional Local Council, and in 2002 was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg. A series of bomb explosions rocked Soweto in October 2002. The explosions, believed to be the work of the Boeremag, a right wing extremist group, damaged buildings and railway lines, and killed one person.


As Soweto was counted as part of Johannesburg in South Africa's 2008 census, Soweto's population is 1,3 million [ recent demographic statistics are not readily It has been estimated that 40% of Johannesburg's residents live in Soweto. However, the 2008 Census put its population at 1,3 million  (2010) or about one-third of the city's total population. Soweto's population is predominantly black. All eleven of the country's official languages are spoken, and the main linguistic groups (in descending order of size) are Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Venda, and Tsonga.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Recent Activities

Well, another week has come and gone here in the winter of South Africa. Unfortunately, due to limited bandwidth here at my cottage I cannot use Skype and therefore cannot upload any new pictures to include in my blog entries.

The days are starting to pass more quickly, but I wouldn’t say that I am busy or having the time of my life. I am very cognizant of the fact that this summer is part of my graduate school degree, well frankly, because it feels like it. It’s just something I have to do. Fortunately, my past experiences, thought processes, and general attitude towards life have trained me well to deal with this type of lifestyle, and each morning I generally awake feeling positive, and each night when I go to bed I am thankful for a warm home and the chance to learn about another place.

Now that I have that off my chest, I will spare you readers any more emotional discussion and describe a few activities and events that I have experienced in the past week.

Last Saturday, my lovely supervisor picked up so that I could accompany her on her errands for the day so I could see more of the city. I was pleased to do this, as running errands with my mom at home has always been a favorite activity of mine, even though I know most people find it boring. We headed straight out of town to an industrial part of the city that was apparently home to a fancy cheese and wine shop. Everyone in the shop reflected the diversity of this place, but all were there in the pursuit of imports from France and Italy. As we waited in line, my supervisor encouraged me to shop, but I just laughed and said I couldn’t imagine giving my university a meal receipt from this particular shop. Our next destination was Chinatown. As soon as we got out the car, I immediately felt at home, as I felt I was in Asia. There was no sign of Africa to be found! Actually it was rather bizarre. After purchasing some cheap vegetables at the Chinese stalls, we stumbled along a Thai Supermarket. Wow, talk about feeling at home, it was like I had reentered the shops in my nearest city during Peace Corps. Immediately, I started speaking in Thai with the shopkeepers and grabbing all the snacks and drinks I could fit in my basket. I also picked up some fresh spring rolls for dinner that night. Delicious! Moving on with the day, we sat down to lunch at a dim sum restaurant and had great conversations about Peace Corps (my supervisor is a returned volunteer and also used to work for PC South Africa). Never slowing down we headed to a few shopping malls to do grocery shopping and again I felt like there was no way I could be in Africa. The prices are almost the same as at home, and the only thing I was missing in my cart was sliced turkey!

The next few days passed uneventfully as I am now quite used to my commute, my cottage, and other aspects of my daily life here. When Friday finally rolled around I was thrilled. I had made arrangements to meet one of the consultants who helped everyone in our program get our internships for an early breakfast at a Rosebank hotel. She was in town for business for her NGO in India and it was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. What a small world! After a great breakfast and great conversation we joined her colleagues and proceeded to meet my colleagues to go and visit one of the CBOs (Community Based Organization) that our NGO supports. The organization is staffed by passionate and energetic folks and I really enjoyed learning more about their HIV programming. After a quick meeting and tea, we all piled into cars and headed out to Soweto to see their mobile testing center and a clinic. Somewhere along the way we got quite lost, but I didn’t mind as this was my first adventure out of the office in 3 weeks. We finally arrived and got a tour of a very busy clinic. Next we headed down the paths into the township dodging the dead rats in the street, children playing and stray dogs to visit the home of a woman living with HIV but also acting as caretaker for others with the disease. The home was in ok condition compared to some of the tin shacks we had passed and fairly clean. During my time in Peace Corps I became comfortable working with people with HIV but this group seemed worse off. It seems that in Thailand, people have more or better access to early testing and ARVs and by comparison these people seemed very sick. Just listening to their stories really drove home the fact that the epidemic here really is one of the worst in the world. In this area 1 in 5 persons is positive.

The visit was great in a number of regards, but it really got me thinking. It was rather awkward to be a visitor to a community project, as in the past I am used to being part of programming and implementation. Now I was one of the people that I was used to hosting! It really made me think about what I want in my future in terms of this work, and I hope that I can strike a balance between doing policy and management and still participating in, supporting, or doing field work.

This weekend was spent relaxing, but I did have the chance to attend a gathering of folks where we watched the South African Springboks (rugby) defeat the Brits. I knew nothing about rugby before the game but actually was able to catch on and think I may start following the sport….at the very least I will cheer on the Boks! During the game we had great champagne cocktails and had a homemade Indian meal for dinner. It was great fun for me and I had a chance to meet and chat with some really interesting folks.

I hope my adventures and activities begin to pick up and happen with more frequency as I only have 7 weeks left here!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Taxi Experience

I have now been in Jo-burg for about 2 weeks, and by no means I am expert on the city, but I do feel pretty accomplished by the fact that I can get myself to and from my office everyday. Yes, it may seem like a small victory but maybe once you read this article from the Guardian in 2010, you too will put your hands together in applause for me!
Carless in Johannesburg. It could be the title of a low-budget horror movie. A huge, sprawling greater metropolitan area of about 10 million people covering more than 600 square miles, the city is built for the car. If you're not in one, good luck – even though most drivers will be stuck in gridlock. I've been here for a few weeks and my main exposure to the city has been on foot. And I'm not alone. The overwhelming majority of Jo'burgers are carless.
To be a pedestrian here is either to be bold or to be poor. There is public transportation to move people to and from far-off suburbs and townships – there's a new bus rapid transit system that's been developed ahead of the World Cup, as well as the Gautrain regional rail system that started this week – but public transport isn't the city's strong suit.
Filling the void is the unofficial public transit system: the minibus taxi, which more than 70% of the city's population – predominantly black residents – use to commute.
With room for 15, to however many the driver wants to try to squeeze in, thousands of minivans dot the roadways. For the budget traveller – and World Cup visitor – these people's taxis are an affordable way to get around. It costs 7.5 Rand (roughly 67p) to get from almost any point in the city to any other, or at least most of the way.
For the inexperienced, though, the rules they operate under can be bewildering. So much so that the city has issued a comprehensive guide for taxi users containing illustrations of the various hand signals that are used.
Here's what you need to know to get moving:
• Unlike metered taxis, minibus don't go door-to-door, but operate on routes, much like a bus. Unlike buses, they simply stop wherever you are on the road or wherever you want to get off.
• Learning which taxis go where and what route they're likely to take comes with practice. All a tourist really needs to know is that one forefinger up will invariably get you downtown.
• You'll end up at a series of taxi ranks, hubs of the greater system, where hundreds of taxis line up to shuttle people off to all parts of the city and beyond. The main ranks are MTN, which can get you to the upscale northern suburb of Sandton, and Metro Mall (known locally as Bree), from which you can access both of the city's World Cup stadia (Soccer City in Nasrec and Ellis Park in Doornfontein). The fan zones are at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Innes-Free Park in Sandton and Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. Just ask one of the marshals close to the front where you queue for your destination.
• Be ready for a wild ride, as the drivers are notoriously aggressive on the roads. And if you're white, be prepared to be the only white person on board, which is a non-issue for the rest of the riders, who, when they aren't completely disinterested in anyone around them, are friendly and helpful to obvious outsiders.
• Most importantly, be ready for a true Johannesburg experience – one few tourists see, but which will show you what it's really like to live in Jo'burg.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Report

Hi readers,

Hope those of you that enjoyed my previous blog about experiences in Thailand might continue to enjoy hearing of times and adventures in South Africa this summer. Yes, I am back in Africa! I will be spending about 10 weeks here working and learning from an international NGO. To avoid to any shady or controversial writing, I will just refer tot that organization as NGO and talk about my work in general.

I am sitting here in my digs for the 9 weeks (I have already been here a week) waiting for coverage of the Queen's Jubilee celebration to come on TV and reflecting on my time since my arrival. Wow, its been a bumpy ride. The first surprise or stumbling block for me has been realizing that South Africa, and thus Johannesburg, really is in the middle of winter! Yes, I knew this before arriving, but I didn't realize how much it would affect me! The sun sets at a very early 6 pm and because of safety precautions that need to be taken here, that means everyone needs to be done walking around the streets or going places in a car. Since I have no plans to drive or buy a car while here, that means I am tucked into my house and all locked in at 6 pm every night! Luckily I have plenty of experience filling the long evening hours with entertaining things to focus on from my time in Thailand. Thanks Peace Corps!

After about 5 days, I was finally feeling over my jet lag and the overwhelming anxiety of being in a new city. I clocked in a few days at my office, mostly either reading about the history of the organization and related topics or reading the New Yorker as I am still awaiting my work computer. I met most of the staff and am starting to figure out how things work around there.

I take a mini-bus taxi to work everyday. Each morning, I walk about 12 minutes to a busy intersection to flag down a mini-bus full of people that is on a set route that passes right near my office. Once you hop in, you pass your fare up through the passengers and eventually someone hands you your change. Apparently its one of the most honest everyday dealings one can have in South Africa and the system works flawlessly. Really interesting and lovely if you ask me. I return from work in the same fashion. Though the previous description may sound like a piece of cake, one must remember that this is Africa and something different has happened on each of my commutes so far, causing some laughable moments and some that are more anxiety ridden.

Safety has been on my mind a lot here in Jo-burg and to be honest I have felt a bit scared or lonely at times. I expect I will adjust just fine, especially once I have some work to throw myself into. Honestly, I do not see myself exploring or going out into the city that much because of lack of transportation and a lack of a companion. The only person besides my co-workers that I know here is a classmate who will only be in town for two weeks, leaving next Saturday. Thus, we took advantage of having each other around by going on a city tour this Saturday. Or tour was about 4 hours with only 2 stops so it was mostly driving. Our first stop took us to Constitution Hill, described by Lonely Planet as:
"a development with a focus on South Africa's new Constitutional Court, built within the ramparts of the Old Fort, which dates from 1892 ad was once a notorious prison, where many activists, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi, were held. Ruling on constitutional and human-rights matters, the court itself is a very real symbol of the changing South Africa: a lekgotla (place of gathering) rising form the ashes of one of the city's most poignant apartheid-systems monuments, with cases heard in all 11 official languages".  Our tour began with a walk through the old prison cells that was quite moving, disturbing, and shocking, followed by an inspirational walk through of the new courthouse that attempts to move out of the horrible past into a hopeful future with its thoughtful design. Here are a few pictures:
Entrance to Constitution Hill
Foyer to courtroom, designed to mimic the trees in South African villages that elders sit under to make fair and just decisions
"power to the people"-prisoner graffiti
Solitary confinement cells
Blanket sculptures designed by former prisoners to represent their lives there

Beautiful courtroom used to try cases with constitutional matters with room for all 11 judges (one for each of SA's official languages)

Next our tour took us on a drive through the Johannesburg neighborhood of Hillbrow. Now, before coming here, all I had read told me to avoid this space for safety reasons, but in fact these blocks and city streets are the real heart of the city and show how life really is here. So I was excited for a chance to observe within the safety of a locked car with an experienced guide and driver. I learned that these days, Hillbrow has a reputation of pure lawlessness, but in the past it had been the nation's first "Gray Area", or a place where whites and blacks could live side by side. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of my own because our guide didn't what to call attention to ourselves but here is pic from the web:
The tour continued with drives through the University of the Witwatersrsand that is home to the studies of over 20,000 students, a drive past the SABWorld of Beer (no, we didn't stop!), over the new Nelson Mandela Bridge (2003: connects parts of the city that had always been separated before, and ended in the city center with views of city hall and a stop at the "Top of Africa". This euphemistically named destination is the top floor of the tallest building in Africa, the Carlton Center which stands at 50 stories high. From the top we were able to get a better orientation of the city. I noted several rugby and football stadiums, one sponsored by Coca-cola, a horse racing stadium, the Gold Reef City (an amusement park and casino), several universities, and several tree-filled neighborhoods that are apparently the more wealthy parts of town.

Here is a pic of me and my classmate at the top:

After the tour ended, I had a chance to check out Melville, a nice suburb where my friend is staying, enjoy a late lunch of pizza, and a good chat session in my friend's guesthouse before heading home by taxi to lock myself in before dark.

All in all, Saturday was a great end to an interesting, scary, stressful, crazy, lonely, fun, tough week! (Can you tell it was an emotional roller coaster?)