Mansions and ‘match-box’ Houses

Soweto is a place of contrasts: rows of tin shanties abut luxurious mansions; piles of garbage and pitted roads offset green fields and rustic streams.

Soweto has the same vibrant, racy feel of Johannesburg, of which it is an integral part. Despite the high unemployment rate there is a cheerful energy, a bustle of activity, with informal traders plying their wares on every corner.

From the footbridge of the world-renowned Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, one has a panoramic view of Soweto. In the immediate vicinity of the bridge many people mill around – hawkers peddling a variety of goods, shoppers looking for bargains, and of course the ever-present commuters hurrying to board taxis.

Further afield, the barrenness that comprises much of the old Soweto comes into view – the small brown houses of Old Diepkloof and Orlando townships, in stark contrast to the colourful shades and tree-lined streets of the newer parts like Diepkloof Extension, home to the relatively affluent.

In Diepkloof the grey, four-roomed dwellings, cynically called “matchbox houses” by locals, abound. These are the original dwellings constructed to accommodate the first black migrants to the city. Although they are small, locals take pride in their houses, and put much effort into making them habitable and cosy.

In contrast to these symbols of poverty, there are the various “extensions” that have been established to accommodate the relatively affluent. One example is Pimville Extension, home to the emerging black middle class. The suburb boasts beautiful houses, the roads are good, playgrounds and schools are in mint condition.