South Africa 2008 - Visiting the Mall in Soweto
Soweto means South Western Township. I drove the family to the Maponya Mall in Soweto today for an outing. From the city's website:
Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country, with Census 2001 putting its population at 896 995. Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country, it is also the most metropolitan township in the country - setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance and language
Soweto celebrated its hundredth birthday in October 2004. A chronology of key events, the June 1976 uprising, and the centenary celebrations.
The city has made the redevelopment of Soweto a major priority, including electrification, tarring of roads, and the building of public facilities and housing.
You may think of ghettos and shacks when you hear the word Soweto, and if you look for them you'll find them, but I've really noticed a difference in Soweto in recent years. I haven't got a tale of rich people visiting poor people as a form of tourism. The mall was as nice a mall as I've ever been to, including malls in Asia (which are REALLY nice). We didn't go to the cultural center (yet) or Mandela's house. We went to the mall. And it was lovely.
There's a rising black middle class, and they were all at the mall today. The whole place was decked out for the holidays, which I find slightly funny because it's quite hot and I just think snow when it's Christmas. Anyway, there was a huge tree in the center part of the mall.
We ate for a very reasonable price at Nando's, which is way better than KFC. We fed a group of 10 for less than US$30, as the US$ to the Rand is a favorable 1:10, as opposed to the 1:6 or 1:7 it's been on previous trips.
One of the things that strikes me about the mall in Soweto is how "put together" everyone is. Great outfits, cute hair, folks are fit and sharp. I felt underdressed, completely. If you go out, you'd better look nice.
I did also feel White, as I was alone in that sense, but didn't feel uncomfortable. It was actually very interesting (as it always is) as it's a reminder as to how my wife feels. As a white guy, it was like dropping into the movie "White Man's Burden," or a photo negative. I was effectively an albino. One actually forgets one's color in these situations, and after a few weeks if I pass a mirror it takes a second to remember my pastiness. Fortunately I am sporting a pretty darn good beard so I'm brown from the neck up. ;)
The Soweto mall has everything any other mall in the world, so it was great for Christmas shopping. My wife's younger brothers are moving out of the house so we are in the market for a fridge for their apartment.
Not a really exciting post, this, but rather a mundane story about holiday commerce. We drove to Soweto, we shopped, we returned. I drove on the left. This was my day, until tomorrow. If you visit Joburg, definitely check out Maponya Mall in Soweto.