The townships are the areas where, during apartheid, the black people and (separately) the colored people were required to live. Pass-books were issued - like internal passports around the country - if you did not have a job in town you had to return to the homelands in the country.
Things are not like that any more … however, they all still live in these areas, for economic reasons instead, and also because their friends and families live in the same community.
There are different classes of townships - old, formal townships where the hostels were built for single men.
These buildings are all to the same plan - on each floor of these long buildings there is a common living area, and 6 rooms, 4 of which hold three beds, and two of which have four beds. there is one tap and a small kitchen for a paraffin stove.
Now, instead of it being room for single men, each bed is the sole private space of a family. Outside, a sandy, dusty yard with junk cars and women selling sheeps heads - boiled (of course).
THese old places are gradually being torn down, to be replaced with small two-bedroom houses. However, the new houses do not match the population density of the old places, let alone the economic means of the old occupants, so there is a big circus of all move to the next place we can afford.
Lower cost new townships are being built, in a pattern started well before the change of government from the National Party, where a large area of plots is marked out, and infrastructure put in, in the form of roads, and a small toilet with attached concrete sink and a single tap per plot. What goes up on the plot is typical of all the shanty towns - hardboard scrounged from the dump - pieced of corrugated iron bought by the sheet for the roof, and odd pieces of lumber and nails to hold it all together. However, inside they are usually a concrete floor, linoleum, curtains and a clean little home that seems in contrast with the ramshackle outside.
they pay for there infrastructure - R13 per month (US$3) that is the hardest thing they have to come to terms with - regular payments. There has been such a problem with electricity bills that you now pre-pay for electricity.
The meters are made by Phillips, Holland (a strong pre-disposition in RSA to products/systems of european origin rather than USA) and are little gems. You are provided with a laminated card with a long serial number and barcode, which you present to the electricity shop, with (say) 50 Rand to pay for the electricity. They are in turn given a 20 digit number to punch in to the membrane keypad on the meter, and, like magic, they are credited the correct amount of electricity.
Our guide took us into her Aunts little house. Her aunt knew English, and went to great pains to understand our questions and answer them accurately.
The next level down of township are old shanty towns that have had water pipes installed, and common collecting points for buckets of sewage.
And, at the bottom - shanty cities with no services at all.
the colored Townships are a cut above the Black ones - they have always been treated better, and for a while in the 50s even had a vote. they speak a pidgin English/Africaanse, while the black speak Xhosa (the X is a click - one of 5 different ones in their language). As usual, any small attempt to speak their language was well received (usually with hoots of laughter) so it was well worth learning their greetings.
There is as much a problem to bring the Coloreds and blacks to a place of mutual respect as it is to ask that of the priviliged whites.
In town myself and a German friend Mattias I met in Namibia have met many interesting people in the watering holes of the city - including one great evening with a french girl who came out to observe the elections and decided to stay for a while, and an old white man who drove Nelson Mandelas daughters to school at an exclusive diplomatic place in Swaziland while he was incarcerated.
His insight into the influence of the old tribal heirarchies on the ANC in exile was most entertaining. the Canadians had a big part of funding the ANC while it was a baned organisation in exile.
Plastic bags, the scourge of the african countryside, all stuck in the razor-wire surrounding almost any building of note.
No razor wire, or apparently any form of security, around the affluent black residences in th black townships.
Did I tell you Cape Town is shooting for the Olympics in 2004 ?