28 Jan 2008
Smoke and steam billows out of the power plants. The sky is often filled with ominous clouds from the refineries. The dense coal smoke from cooking and heating fires gradually drifts away from the sprawling townships … and the garbage continues to pile higher.
The Southwestern side of Johannesburg is generally known as Soweto – short for South West Townships. This is a huge district of heavy industry, small shops, and people that stretches as far as the eye can see. It sprawls over an area of 50 square miles and encompasses a population of 4 million souls. Yet, the high-rise buildings of Johannesburg are only a few miles away. They seem to be of another country, of another continent.
Soweto is South Africa’s most famous collection of townships. It was here in 1976 that the pent up frustration of apartheid, … the separation of races, … erupted into deadly violence; … a violence that echoed around the world. These steel reinforced guard towers, …once located at several intersections, … are empty now. The violence and the intimation of police patrols are no more. People move freely throughout the land but a cloud of uncertainty remains even though apartheid has been gone from South Africa since 1994.
Soweto continues to be pushed and pulled by varied and diverse forces. It remains an enigma … a place of contrast. Two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived here. It has one of the highest rates of murder and rape in the world. Soweto is a place where wealthy live in comfort and safety protected by their high walls, their security police, and their guard dogs. It is also a place where a prefabricated home, … known as a ZoZo, … can be delivered and set up the same day at a cost of about $250. The poor live in the ZoZo’s where similar homes abound by the thousands. There are no high walls, no security police, and only an occasional friendly dog.
In some cases, townships with tin shacks are only a short distance from exclusive gated communities. Large masonry homes with many rooms are rapidly filling the available space. One area, known as Sandton … probably the wealthiest in all of Africa, is where the UN summit on Development was held. This is a place where some can enjoy a luxurious afternoon at the spa, the golf driving range, or the country club.
For the millions, … who cannot afford the new prefab structures, … home is a shack made of whatever can be salvaged. Most often, the prize is corrugated sheet metal for both walls and roof. Poles cut from the nearby riverbank are used for ceiling joists. Living conditions, however, are improving; water … as well as electricity … is a possibility. A sink attached to an outdoor toilet serves as a place to wash dishes and do the laundry. Masonry houses capped off with a tin roof are a significant step up for the lucky few.
Schools too are better. Many are simple in construction but the classrooms are equipped with blackboards, desks, and chairs as well as a few books.
Living in an apartment, called a flat, is an option for some. They provide a home for families as well as dormitory living for men working in the mines and factories. The two words, crowded and crime, sum up living in the flats. Chaos reigns in them especially at night and on the weekends. However, living conditions are better than squatter camps and … trash is picked up regularly.
Some work in the mines or factories, but employment remains a major problem for the black population. It is also a problem for whites; in particular, recent high school graduates. Those who set up business have very low overhead and capital invested in the venture. One barber only needs a bench and a razor. Another barber, with clippers powered by a car battery, earns about $4 a day. Automobile body shops, … called panel beaters, … sprawl out in the middle of the street. A few people repair and sell shoes. Many stand on street corners seeking “piece jobs”, one-day jobs such as painting or gardening. Some pick through trash. Others collect and sell second hand clothes. Street vendors selling a wide variety of goods are common. But still, … with all this activity, … many have no jobs at all. The older men often just sit and talk. The young men without jobs occupy themselves playing games, gambling or … sitting and listening to music. The school kids are always busy, … playing soccer or other street games. The more talented kids make intricate wire toys.
There are many “clouds” surrounding Soweto, from cooking and heating to poverty and unemployment, but the most troublesome is the spiritual fog. Throughout the Soweto townships, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and other cults are mixed with the African traditional religions such as Zionists, Shembites, Apostolics, and Zed C C. But, … still remaining is the strong belief in the spirits of their ancestors and the traditional healers … the sangomas.
Under apartheid, Asians were kept in the Lenasia Township and today it is chiefly populated by East Indians. As expected, Islam and Hinduism are the major religions with temples and large mosques located throughout the area.
A few miles away, the Soweto Spiritualist Church has a different kind of following. The members of this cult believe in a combination of New Age, ancestor worship, and other options that seem right to them.
In Soweto, shining through the clouds of spiritual darkness, there are a few places that God’s word is taught. One of these places is the El Bethel Worship Center. Kids as well as adults from the Sharpville Township attend this church, which meets in a large tent. Pastor Aaron Tshela was born in the area and has been a pastor for about 15 years.
Charles Rhekhotsu is the bi-vocational pastor at the Rivers of Life Church. He also teaches at a high school. Inside the building the furnishings are simple but there is a keyboard and aspiring young musicians. The members of this church are reaching out to the people of Lawley Township with the love of Jesus.
In Braamfischerville Township, another church rents one of the classrooms in a school. Usually the Sunday morning worship service and Bible study fills up the available space.
Immanuel Baptist Church is in the Diepsloot Squatter Camp. The pastor is a seminary student and lives nearby in a new ZoZo. (on camera comments) Pastor Segato’s collection of reference materials is used in his seminary classes. A missionary often teaches this pastor and another student at the church.
Seminary classes are also taught at night because the students work during the day. A centrally located student’s home is used for the classroom. These types of studies are an effective and economical method for preparing leaders to reach out into the darkness of Soweto.
Pray for the lights that are already shining through the darkness. Pray that God would send men willing to be trained so that they can take a leadership role in planting new churches. Pray that the cloud of uncertainty and spiritual darkness hanging over Soweto will soon be overcome by the light of God’s Word.
CLOSING: On camera song
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