Gloria, Mitta’s mother.
It was so good to be invited back to Soweto to stay overnight with the Lebaka family. Gloria thought Mitta was lying when she said I was back, and only believed I had returned when she saw me in her yard. She is the ultimate matriarch, never married, politically active, and hugely influential member of the community. She lived through apartheid and loves to tell stories of her past…and present; ‘I’m still looking for a guy to marry me!’ she says, as she dresses up for a gathering with the local women, with a huge grin.
She talks about her experiences before apartheid ended. ‘ I worked in the Carlton building, which was the highest building in Johannesburg, weaving goat wool. There were different staircases and lifts for black and white. When we became free that was cancelled. One of my bosses, Susan, was from France, I miss her, she treated us well to start with. But, the other bosses told her “we don’t treat them like whites” and in the end she became worse than the South Africans. I think she would be very old now. In those days, darling, it was worse than now. Today we are treated like human beings. Before apartheid finished you wouldn’t have been allowed here. The police would have beaten us, they wouldn’t allow a white person here- they didn’t want us to mix. We would be arrested. Mandela didn’t kill anyone and he was put in prison just for saying what he wanted to say. Now we have been given a platform to say no. It was like the wall of Berlin coming down.
We had to apologise if we touched a white person, we were called Kaffir and couldn’t use the same toilet. It was worse in Lesotho- we were given yesterdays’ bread..that’s why we are so excited- we are free. Of course there are still problems, some schools are still segregated and some uncultured whites still cause problems in the shopping queues.’ I pointed out that I was the only white person I had seen that day. Gloria stated ‘yes , but it’s ok because the people know you are not white South African, if you were you wouldn’t be here.’
Katherine Metseeme 75. Dobsonville Soweto
Metseeme (houses are standing)
I spent the evening with six gogo’s, (otherwise known as the grannies, wether they have grandchildren or not) Mitta and her mother Gloria last night in Dobsonville. They cooked, chatted (in Zulu, Setswana and English to keep me in the loop- sort of) Mitta was going to take me into town but after the biggest, loudest, booming electric thunderstorm and my need to hear more stories from the wonderful mamma Gloria, we decided to stay close to home. I was dressed in one of Gloria’s dresses after the downpour soaked me through, so I felt I fit in well!? I met Katherine who told me a little about her life, in Setswana, translated by Mitta.
‘I was born in Litchenburg in the North West. Then I lived in Rodiport in the suburbs. We had livestock and grew our own vegetables. It was a really nice place. In 1956 I was in school. In 1960 I moved to Dobsonville. We were forced to move from the outer suburbs and into the townships through a government law. The land was dry there- we didn’t want to move. Some people lost their houses and didn’t get any money for them. They wanted Rodiport for the white people. There were lots of houses built but not enough for the amount of people.’
( The 1976 uprising was a turning point causing the Government to rethink its policies on limited residential development. In 1978 legislation was passed making it possible for Africans to obtain 99 year leasehold title on their houses. From 1983 Sowetan’s could purchase their houses at very discounted prices. In the same period government started to invest heavily in service infrastructure. Effective demand totally outstripped supply and backyard structures and informal settlements started to appear.
Soweto falls within the municipality of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. The original rental houses, which make up the majority of the housing stock, have now been sold to the tenants who received a subsidy from the government to cover the cost of the houses. Private sector housing was developed from the 1980’s funded by the various banks. Freehold title is available to these properties. Services are provided by the Johannesburg Metro council and electricity by Eskom. There are also extensive informal settlements, hostels and backyard shacks in the area.
Soweto has long been viewed as the dusty apartheid township beyond the towering mine dumps south of Johannesburg’s inner city, Soweto’s image is now changing and it is increasingly considered as a good investment proposition.) Wik