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par Andre VLTCHEK
Soweto is not just a suburb of Johannesburg located right near the mining belt ; it is an enormous urban sprawl, with over 1.2 million inhabitants. It is more populous than Boston or Amsterdam.
It used to be a place synonymous with misery, with sadness, with the depravity of apartheid. This is the township where Nelson Mandela lived with his first family and then with his second wife, Winnie. This is from where he was forced underground in 1961, before being arrested one year later and sentenced to life in prison by the pro-Western apartheid regime. And this is where, in 1976, a student uprising against apartheid erupted, and up to 700 young people lost their lives, among them the 12-year-old-boy Hector Pieterson, whose death became a symbol of regime’s savagery.
Soweto, which gets its name from "South Western Townships", with its tin roofs, unpaved roads and excessive crime rate had been, for many years and decades, an emblem of poverty and hopelessness. But since the end of apartheid, South Africa became a totally new nation : progressive, socialist and increasingly compassionate. Two decades after the new rainbow flag was raised, Soweto looks cosmopolitan, upbeat and forward-looking. Most of the roads are now paved ; a commuter train system transports tens of thousands of people between Soweto and the center of Johannesburg. There are elegant, South American-style bus lanes, as well as a super modern motorway ("Soweto Highway", which branches from the N1) with dedicated lanes for public transportation.
Soweto counts an architecturally stunning stadium, with enormous playgrounds for children, new green areas, and countless lanes of high quality social housing. Not far from "Mandela House", which has been converted into a museum, there are countless hip restaurants, cafes and art galleries. There are also two modern medical facilities : the Baragwanath hospital, and the new Jabulani, 300-bed hospital that was handed over to the Gauteng health department in 2012. New schools are opening their doors. As written by Bongani Nkosi in 2011 : “The community of Soweto now has access to a state-of-the-art higher learning facility, following the multi-million rand upgrade of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) campus in the township.