Like anywhere and everywhere in the world, Soweto is changing… and fast. The Soweto you might have seen a decade ago or that of two decades ago during Apartheid, is no longer there. The township itself continues to expand beyond belief, with a population of now more than 1 million.
I first visited Soweto only a year ago and had my first glance at the large disparity between rich and poor in a country that prides itself as the rainbow nation. Sure, South Africa has come leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades… but if Soweto and other townships throughout Johannesburg and further abroad throughout South Africa are anything to go by, then we can certainly say there is still a long way to go.
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
The Soweto that stands here today is a city within a city. There’s even a Virgin Active gym the size of a themepark, with memberships being offered to locals on a 5-year sign up. My tour guide informs me this was Richard Branson’s way of saying “good on you, Soweto!” for all the accomplishments and growth that has occurred in the years that have passed since Apartheid.
There’s also a “wealthy neighbourhood” within Soweto where houses, while still moderate, show there is a lot of opportunity out there, if you are willing to seek and acquire it. Of course, not all those houses were bought with ‘good’ money, shall we say. But you’ll get that anywhere in the world.
Past, Present, and Future
Just like any economy, having wealth also means you’ll have lower social classes – including a strong middle class in Soweto, as well as the lower class (are pictured above). The sad reality is that, while progress is progress, there is still much to be achieved here and in South Africa more generally. The country is one of the most naturally beautiful and blossoming countries in the world, yet with a history/image it just can’t seem to shake. But I urge you to come here, see it for yourself, experience South Africa first hand, and then form your own conclusion.
Generally speaking the country is very safe for foreigners and very dissimilar from the horror stories you hear pitched in the media. Of course like anywhere South Africa has its’ problems, but you’ll struggle to find a country in the world that doesn’t.
Thanks to my tour guide Tamba who gave me so much insightful knowledge during this 3-hour tour… without it I would have struggled to still make sense of this fascinating city within a city, and this country more generally. To the Rainbow Nation!