25% of the South African population live in townships. This morning being out last day we decided to go and visit one. We booked up on a tour and set off not being quite sure what to expect. Our guide took us to the District Six Museum first. District Six used to be a vibrant part of Cape Town being a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants. But by the beginning of the 20th century the process of removals and marginalisation had begun. In 1901 the area was accused of spreading the bubonic plague (er, hello? it was rats from the ships that spread the plague) and the 'Africans' were 'resettled' out of town. In 1966 the area was declared a white area and the mass resettlement started in earnest. By 1982 60,000 people had been turfed out and there houses bulldozed. These people were evicted, arrested or simply forced from there homes. The majority were black. They were all moved to townships - shanty towns of wooden huts built away from any natural resources or shelter. We visited a small one call Booboolatoo (spelling?) that homes 10,000 people. Many in single roomed accommodation of 8 to 10 a room.
The Pass Laws meant that everyone had to carry an ID card which indicated whether they were white, coloured or black. If you were coloured (Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian etc) you were a second class citizen. If you were black you had no status. The 'pencil test' determined whether you were black of not. A pencil was put in your hair and if it fell to the ground you were either coloured or white. Coloured people got a slight better deal than blacks. They were allowed to live in the urban areas of the city. The few blacks who were allowed to stay would have to prove that they had worked for the same employer for 15 years or have been born in the city.
Since 1994, free elections have done little to help these townships. Some how have electricity, a few have running water. But the challenges ahead are many. There is no state aid to the unemployed. It is hard to start a business without some money. Banks will not lend against township dwellings. Inevitably in areas of high unemployment you start to get drugs and the petty crime that follows it.
In spite of all of this we were made to feel very welcome in Booboolatoo and I was amazed at the philosophical approach of the people we spoke to. They realise their position all too clearly and understand that things will not be transformed overnight. They are not angry non resentful. They are simply optimistic about the future for their children. Having been deprived of any education themselves they simple want a better future for their kids. They didn't want money, they didn't want sympathy - they wanted books, skills and knowledge. They wanted the ability to build a life for themselves.
There were no white South Africans in our little touring group. When asked about this one of the township people said, "They don't come. They don't know what is here. They are afraid of us. They are afraid of what they don't know. Until they come to see us here things will not change". I saw his point.