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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Vibrant Soweto turns to the future

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News correspondent in Soweto

Children in Soweto
Soweto's children have grown up with democracy
There is a man in Soweto who knows a thing about selling his township. His name is Wandi and he had run a restaurant for 23 years.

Today, he welcomed 250 tourists for lunch on their way back from visiting the city of more than 3.5m people on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Wandi has a saying: "Soweto has two faces - the one you hear about and the one you see."

And he has no doubt that the people who visit him for lunch have seen a very different Soweto to the one they were expecting.

Its place in history is not doubted, but the perception is of shacks, of poverty, of violence, a no-go area for those with a white face.

But the tourists see historical landmarks, homes of some of South Africa's most famous people - Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu - and they see everything from shacks to mansions.

Hope and optimism

"Soweto is a place of contrasts," says Dan Moyane, a boy in the township who grew into a top-flight businessman in the new South Africa.

Life in Soweto

"Soweto is not a place of doom and gloom, it is a place of hope where people come for inspiration.

"If you want to see poverty, you can see poverty, but it is vibrant, it is colourful and it's a place which helped to change the political life of South Africa."

Sowetans have a real passion and optimism for their township.

Just visit one of the thousands of shebeens - as the bars and clubs that are scattered across the city are called - and you will feel it.

We spent Saturday night in Pinky's Place, a thatched out-house tagged on to his home which doubles as a bar and dance floor.

"The vibe's always been here, but today it's not hidden. They shout it from the rooftops," one of the punters said.

Still struggling

For years, the energy and the heart of South Africa has been trapped in the townships, but now it has been released to the country at large.

The township was founded by a handful of shacks as people were moved beyond the city boundaries of Johannesburg.

On that spot, there are still shacks, but overlooking them are roads and magnificent brick houses.

View of Soweto
Soweto has been home to some of South Africa's best-known figures
It has still got its share of problems: its unemployment at maybe 40%, its poverty and its suffering.

Democracy and the new government have brought resources to the people, and there is still a long way to go. But most people you speak to are optimistic.

Soweto was the place where the 1976 student uprising began, and from where it spread to every corner of the country.

It was a turning point for the anti-apartheid movement, and led to a decade of violence which eventually brought apartheid to an end.

'Powerful people'

Zola, a popular kwaito music star, remembers those days.

"As kids we thought it was a game until we saw someone being killed, and the grandparents told us the history and we took it from there," he says.

"I come from a half-apartheid, half-democracy. These kids are inheriting the 100% pure fruits of democracy. These kids are the future and these kids will take the message to the world."

Outside Nelson Mandela's old house, a group of children play football and bound around in front of our camera.

Zola has the last word: "These kids are a couple of Archbishop Tutus, a couple of Nelson Mandelas, a couple of Mother Sisulus and a couple of Winnie Mandelas. You know - I'm talking about a whole nation of very powerful people that we're looking at."


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