Parents Arrive, Visit Soweto in Johannesburg

Trip Start Mar 17, 2005
Trip End Mar 13, 2006

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Sunday, August 7, 2005

We were sad to leave the Southern Cape, but very excited to see our family which was the first people we had seen for more than a day since leaving home. It was a change of pace to travel with Matt's parents, and we were excited to create such amazing memories together over the following 18 days together.

We spent our first day together talking together in our hotel room in Johannesburg, a great way for them to get over jetlag quickly!

The following day we took a tour of the area to learn more about where we were staying. The first stop was downtown Johannesburg, which is pretty much a ghost town since apartheid ended in 1994. All of the businesses have moved outside of town or left the country as crime increased over the years. Our guide said that 90% of the businesses in the CBD are now empty, including the tallest building in Africa which is 50 stories tall. There were some 5 star hotels he highlighted that had 1200 rooms and are now boarded up closed. He said that only 3 main buildings in the whole city are occupied, one is the national banks headquarters which must stay in downtown.

Before apartheid, 90% of the land was owned by the whites, where only 10% of the population was white. Once apartheid ended, the white business owners took their business elsewhere outside of town to Sandton. During apartheid, only 1% of Soweto residents were unemployed, it was illegial for a black to be without work and living in the city. Few blacks made enough money during apartheid to have a savings, so after the oppression was lifted, and all the jobs left town, many people resorted to theft to make a living.

Next we visited the main part of our town in Soweto. Soweto, the largest township in South Africa with 4.5 million people living in it. During the bobonic plaque many years ago all the blacks were forced to move out of J'burg asking themselves "so where go??"....or Soweto as it is called. We were told that over 60% of the residents of Soweto are unemployed. But at the same time, around 60% of them drive luxury cars. You may ask, how can this be so? Because it is estimated that only 10% of the cars are bought legally in Soweto, the rest are stolen from car jackings or robbery. BMW's are nicknamed the "bikes of Soweto" because there are so many of them. They have what they call "black surgeons" that can change the color and style of a car within 24 hours to hide all stolen identifiers when the authorities come looking for them. There are on average 10 people living in each shack/house that have one room.

We also learned about how the township has it own laws that they govern themselves. Our guide said that there is never crime against tourists in Soweto because if someone did rob us, then they would be killed by their neighbors since we are the tourism money. Seems rather extreme, but he said it is true. Also heard a story about how many people have a 500 Rand ($100) utility bill each month, but the whole community of 4.5 million people has agreed that no one in the the township will pay more than 50 Rand ($1) per month. If someone decides to follow the rules and be honest our guide said "they will burn his house down if he pays more than 50R". He also said that around 80% of the residents have a TV and electricity, which seemed really high with all the unemployment, but with these different rules of electricity payment and high instance of theft I guess that anything is possible in Soweto.
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