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South Africa: Land of wonders


Hope in Soweto

One of the ugliest artifacts of apartheid was the establishment of townships, ghettos where black South Africans were consigned to live apart from the white people of the country. Though apartheid is over and South Africans may now live wherever they choose, the townships remain, and we visited the most famous, Soweto, during our time in Johannesburg.

Soweto is short for “Southwest Township,” and it has become the most significant neighborhood in Johannesburg. With a population of 4.5 million people, it’s a city within a city.

Our local guide, Alina, has spent her whole life in Soweto and gave us a rich view of the diversity of life there.

“We’re going to see the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “At the end of the tour, you’ll have a different perspective.”

Alina was right: While I had expected to see poverty and struggle in the townships, I was surprised to find the joy and vibrancy of life that also exists there. We saw slums, yes, but also homes worth millions of dollars. People in Soweto have more economic opportunity now than ever before, but their ties to the community keep them in the township, even as their wealth grows.

Our tour took us down the street where both Mandela and Desmond Tutu once lived. It also took us down busy streets where locals packed restaurants, bars and patios for drinks and revelry at sunset on a Saturday evening.

Though its history is so dark, the township’s future grows brighter every day. Soweto gave me a new perspective on hope.

I didn’t go to South Africa looking for inspiration. It turned out, though, that inspiration was looking for me.


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