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A stranger in Soweto (Part 4)

Text by Mark OWEN

Latest update : 2010-08-13

Mark Owen, France 24's correspondent in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, capped off football's biggest party with an unexpected and moving visit to the township of Soweto (Part 4 of 4).

Read Part 1 to 3 of Mark Owen's "A stranger in Soweto"

Next stop: Protea squatter’s camp. This for me redefined all my previous experiences of poverty. Sidney had earlier told me of his Doomsday scenario: a fire in the camp.

Tinderbox constructions where up to forty families share one chemical toilet greeted me. An enterprising shoemaker displayed his handmade products, which seemed so cheap to a Euro-laden journalist. The extent of the poverty, the stench of an existence so far below the quality of life we know here in France was frankly overwhelming.

But the smiles of the children at the Protea camp, and the pride of one woman who let us see into her home gave me hope.


Her home was little bigger than a small studio flat in Paris, but it was made of old advertising signs and discarded wood. The floor was packed mud. With her baby tied to her back African style, she was embarrassed as I looked around.

“My house is very untidy,” she said. To me, it appeared neat and well cared for. Pride in a place so bereft of all the comforts we take for granted in France. Her children happy to smile for a visitor’s camera…

Zanele and Sidney waved me off to the motorway; I drove down Chris Hani Way and wondered at how each street and each district told its own story, played its own part in the story of Soweto. I had been there for six hours; but it was like I had just arrived. New and alien images kept emerging, smoke emanating from street fires, the stench of a blocked toilet, a roadside eatery serving fish and the strongest smelling tripe, women doing hair and selling fruit, another carrying home her bag of maize on her head…

Now I was moving away, back towards Johannesburg and its high rise buildings, its gold economy and the World Cup.

The World Cup final had been played out in Soweto at the Soccer City Stadium. But its legacy for the township is still unclear.

As I considered all these issues, something Sidney said to me came to mind: “The World Cup will not make any difference. We are still waiting for the houses promised when the ANC came to power. The money for the stadiums could have been better spent…”

But what about the image of South Africa on the world stage and, more importantly, its own self-image? The 1995 Rugby World Cup seemed to confirm South Africa’s new path towards a better future.
Of this, Sidney was equally ambivalent. “I don’t know, in the film Invictus, why didn’t they get a South African actor to play Mandela…?”

Could the Invictus director Clint Eastwood please explain this?


Date created : 2010-08-10