SOUTH AFRICA: Soweto Township

Soweto is an abbreviation of the words “South Western Townships”.  During the apartheid era blacks and other non-white South Africans were pushed out and made to live in townships, where many of them still live today.  Soweto is the country’s largest township, right near the center of Johannesburg.  When I visited South Africa, I was surprised to see how segregated the country still seems to be, with whites living in upper class gated neighborhoods and blacks living in these townships that often resembled shanty towns.  I wanted to fully experience all of the country’s cultures, especially the vibrant culture of South Africa’s blacks and “coloureds”.  While there I learned a lot about South Africa’s political history, but not nearly enough.  It was upsetting to learn about the scale of racial oppression that took place in South Africa as recently as my own lifetime (American education left out South Africa in our history lessons).

We had been strongly advised by many friends and sources that especially since we are women, we would be better off visiting any of the townships as part of a tour or with a guide.  Alex and I reluctantly decided to seek out a tour rather than going on our own.  One of the first guides I found on Tripadvisor was a photojournalist named Ilan Ossendryver.  He described his tour as less of a tour, and more of a visit to the people he had developed unique friendships with over his decades of visiting and photographing Soweto.  If we were going to tour Soweto, this sounded like the guy to go with.  We made arrangements to meet up with Ilan as soon as we stepped off the plane in Joburg.

I thought that when we visited Soweto we might have been met with unwelcoming looks for being Western tourists, but I was surprised by how warm and friendly everybody we encountered was.  I was also surprised to see that Soweto is a fully functioning city of its own, and that some of the neighborhoods within Soweto are ordinary suburban houses with grass lawns.  Blacks no longer live in these townships because they have to, but rather because this is where their communities have been established.  Ilan photographed everyone and everything as we drove and walked through the neighborhoods, which was perfect since I wanted to take a ton of pictures too.  He also brought a giant bag with gifts for his friends and the children, who were overwhelmingly appreciative.  Some of my favorite photos I took while in South Africa were of the people in Soweto, which unfortunately I lost every single one of when Alex and I later returned to Cape Town and were carjacked and I was robbed of my two bags containing everything I brought on the trip to Joburg and our safari.  I was so fortunate to have visited Soweto with Ilan, because included in the tour was that he would share all of his photos from the day with us through Dropbox.

…So these photos are not my own, they are all by Ilan Ossendryver.  Book a tour with him here!