South Western Townships or Soweto as it is known, was formed as a result of the eviction of Africans by Europeans from the city of Johannesburg. The Africans had been drawn to the city because of the need for labour on the Gold mines after 1886. From the start, they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg. In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an “evacuation camp” at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague.
Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935. Apartheid was introduced as law after the 1948 elections that were won by the National Party and stayed in effect till 1994 when the African National Congress came into power. We deal with the period that Apartheid was in effect and highlight the life that was experienced by Africans in that period.
The crime of Apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” The Europeans were the dominant group of the time and oppressed Africans (Coloureds and Indians to a lesser extent).
Life carried on in Soweto and other townships though. Children from the neighbourhood played an assortment of games from bathi, diketo and mgusha to name a few. The community was more together then with a oneness that is rare in this age. Streets were always meticulously clean and many townships had competitions to see who could keep the best garden. Churches and community halls were used to hold meetings (that started with prayer) to discuss the status quo and how to resolve issues that affected the community. When the police came, the meeting would suddenly become a full-blown church service.
It was a time of great sadness but also a time of joy that the African people used with the little that they had at their disposal. Families would gather for prayer, storytelling, singing and dancing, snakes and ladders (and other indoor games) and a time to reflect on the day’s events. There was always a feeling of belonging both within the families and within the community. We always knew who lived next door.