Laura and Carin
Coming to southern Africa, many of us had preconceptions of what it would be like and how we would feel. Through touring Soweto, listening to speakers, visiting museums, visiting historical sites, going to the malls, meeting new people, and staying with families in Soweto, we have come to the general question- what is post-apartheid South Africa? By observing living conditions in a number of South African communities, we were able to get a better understanding of South Africa during and after Aparthied. (Photo 1 "Single's")
Our main living accommodation in South Africa was 17 Shaft, a previous hostel for gold miners in Johannesburg near Soweto and the World Cup Soccer Stadium. During the apartheid the government built hostels for migrant males that were employed and used for cheap labor in the mines. Although 17 Shaft has been transformed and transitioned into our temporary South African home, there are still hostels, and so called ‘single’s quarters, around South Africa.
In our tour of Soweto we saw this type of housing and how it has persisted; how the close quarters, overpopulation, and unsanitary conditions have remained even after the new government came to power. In these areas, the unemployment rate is around 80% and overpopulation in a serious problem. The government therefore built new homes for those who reside in the hostels (homes that accommodate larger families and have basic services), but the government expects payment for these new lodgings, which the hostel residents cannot afford. Also, the hostel we saw is completely separated from the actual township of Soweto, which seems to discourage unity and correspondence between the differing living situations.
In another living situation across town, we witnessed different housing also relating to migrants. In recent years Johannesburg has seen an influx of immigrants from a number of African countries. Many immigrants come to Johannesburg with hopes of finding employment opportunities in and around the city. On one of our final days in Johannesburg we drove through an inner-city immigrant community called Hillbrow. The Hillbrow we witnessed was a very different community than that during the Apartheid era. Under Apartheid, Hillbrow was legally designated as a “whites-only” neighborhood, but today the population is largely composed of Nigerian immigrants.
Our bus driver and guide gave us his perspective of the community. He explained the frustration many South African citizens feel toward this new immigrant workforce. He sees the influx of immigrant laborers as competition for jobs in a country with an all ready very high unemployment rate. We drove through Hillbrow on a weekday during traditional working hours. The streets were crowded. Many of the unemployed turn to drugs or prostitution. One momentarily jarring experience occurred as a crowd of men ran from a corner as a police car drove by. With a perceived notion that immigrants drive up crime and crowd the labor force, xenophobia is increasingly prevalent in South Africa.
When looking at housing throughout South Africa, we observed many contrasts in the conditions and quality, like the juxtaposition of the suburb of Sandton and the township of Alexandra. Alexandra is one of the poorest townships in South Africa, where people lack proper shelter and water, and struggle with overpopulation. Right across the street is Sandton, one of the wealthiest suburbs. In our kombi, we drove past Alexandra into Sandton, like so many elite residents do. To see not only the unequal housing situation, but also to see the obvious race construction according to location, made us question how far South Africa has come to becoming a truly ‘rainbow nation’. While here, we learned of the phrase ‘ubuntu’, ‘I am because you are’, how can this be true when race and socioeconomics determine opportunities, interactions, and success?
During our ten days in South Africa we witnessed the legacy of apartheid and the effects it has on society today, in regards to the diverse and unequal housing. So while it’s difficult to say whether South Africa is stepping two steps forward and one step back, or one step forward and two steps back; there are a few things that seem certain. From what we experienced and observed in regards to living conditions and housing, it seems that there will be nearly as much transition in South Africa in the next twenty years as there has been in the last twenty. We also learned that South Africa’s history and their current political and social climate is anything but black and white. There is not a single South African narrative; there is not just one image of post-apartheid South Africa. In a region as diverse as southern Africa there are many homes, people, and stories that make up the society that we have observed in the past few weeks.
Laura and Carin
Photo 2 "View"