SOWETO: AFTER INFORMALITY

Soweto is both symbol and living city. Conceived as a segregated labour compound at the start of the 20th century, it was only officially named in 1963. Soweto is a portmanteau name that answers where (south-western) and what (township). “A place like Soweto does not just happen,” offered Johannesburg’s white city government in 1972. “Nor could it grow in haphazard fashion. It was a compound of scientific planning, modern technology, the directed spending of millions of rands, insight into the human condition and a definite desire to help make the world just a little better for everybody.” Decades of resistance, notably in 1976, challenged the lie of apartheid planning and paternalism. But this is well-known history. Since 2000, Soweto has entered a new phase in its history. It is currently the site of intense government intervention. Where once it was an impoverished place to sleep, a poorly serviced labour ghetto, Soweto is now being transformed into something nearing a vibrant edge city. But at what cost? To what end? And for whose benefit?

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