Postcard of the Week: Townships in South Africa
I discovered on my trip to South Africa that this is a country of contrasts. Distinctions between wealth and poverty are painfully evident, with the townships on the outskirts of major cities serving as an uneasy reminder of the great social inequality that still pervades South Africa. The word ‘township’ is basically a synonym for ‘slum’, a densely populated area of land built up out of scrap corrugated iron, make-shift material and basically anything the poor inhabitants can get their hands on. I visited two townships in Johannesburg, firstly Alexandra and then the Soweto area, and despite the terribly cramped living conditions and the poverty, the residents proudly wear a smile. I can only speak for those people that I encountered, but their positive mentality, demonstrated perfectly by this postcard, shine through and they seem happy. (Certainly a lot happier than the depressed commuters I spot on the London underground.) The fact is that you’ll find a whole family living in a room such as the one in the postcard above. They are incredibly resourceful people and have managed to make the best out of the harsh conditions they find themselves in, but it does seem incredibly unfair that while these people are living in slums, not 5km away in Sandton you find brand new, luxurious skyscapers containing 5* hotels, elegant roof top bars and conference centres for the ‘other’ side of the population that still retain all the wealth.
I was fortunate to be shown around Alexandra by a young woman who lives in a single room that’s remarkably similar to the one above. She showed us around, introducing us to members of her community, to the joyful kids that you find everywhere you look, and she explained the hardships and realities of these slums. The townships and the lovely people that inhabit them are something to be experienced and will give you a new outlook on life, I promise. Read my more detailed blog post about my visit to Alexandra here.