Our first stop was the “poor end of town” which in size is the smallest part of Soweto but also by far the most densely populated.
We were taken into a small two room “house”.
I say house loosely because it was no bigger than two decent size tin sheds found in any Australian suburb. This shack had two rooms, walls and a roof of corrugated iron and floors of metal panels on top of what was probably just mud. Looking around, every other ‘dwelling’ was the same with about two or three metres between them where vegetables were grown, washing was hung and occasionally a communal chemical toilet or a water tap was available.
None of these places had running water, sewerage or indeed electricity. The only form of heat was a small wood burning stove also used for cooking.
But the most remarkable thing about this shack were the tenants. Somehow a family of eleven lived here! Mum, Dad and nine kids aged between one and 20 years old.
Mum told us that there’s no work for anyone much and because there’s no such thing as dole in South Africa, Dad picks up a little bit of money from “Piecework”, odd jobs here and there.
She earns a little bit of money from telling fortunes and knitting and selling hats. Fortunately they don’t have to pay rent. Mum was surprisingly, articulate and intelligent. Why was I surprised? I don’t know, I had never met anyone in this position before.
I was equally surprised that she was also cheerful, optimistic and quite accepting of her lot in life and happy to give us a first hand account. As we had in Lesotho we reflected on how much we have and how little these people have in comparison. In Lesotho it seemed different, they were poor but content. Here this was just a brave face and it’s so frustratingly close to not only white affluent suburbs but black ones too! This eventually got the better of us and we gave Nic some money later to pass on to this women who had been good enough to allow us into her home.
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