I think many of us have heard the term "township." Around the world, I think the name Soweto is probably just as well-known (if not more so) than Johannesburg or Cape Town.
But it is one thing to know about them or to have perhaps read about them and it is another thing entirely to come face to face with them.
They are the ugliest, most grievous remnants of apartheid.
During apartheid non-white South Africans were evicted from areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into segregated townships. Sadly, the end of apartheid did not mean the end of townships and today, most South African towns and cities will have at least one township associated with them. Many times, there will also be informal settlements ("squatter camps") at the outskirts of townships.
Many townships suffer from poverty, gangs, violence, overcrowding, poor (or non-existent) sewage, water shortages and illegal (and highly dangerous) electrical use. I say "many" because some townships (like Soweto, for example) have developed wealthy and middle-class areas. But they are not the majority.
Aaron and I have been warned any number of ways to stay away from townships. And it is a very logical warning -- after all, most of the horrible crime statistics associated with South Africa (rape, murder) occur there. But it is very frustrating. I feel like there is this whole other side to South Africa that I will never know, or see, or understand adequately. Of course there are those "township tours" but they feel very ugly and voyeuristic to me -- something seedy about going to gawk and stare at "how the other half live."
The pictures below are the closest we have come to townships. Noel and Karen drove us around near Khayelitsha one whole afternoon because, in Noel's words, "You must see this, this is part of the real South Africa." Some of the photos have big splotches on them -- that's from the windows when Noel said we had to keep them closed. We never left the car. We never really stopped. And this is the closest I will probably come to how many South Africans live.
It is as sick and sad as you can imagine. I find the murals particularly heart-rending. That bit of beauty trying to survive in such ugliness.