A Drive Through the Durban Townships

After completing our service learning volunteer work for the day, we decided to take a brief tour of two prominent townships outside of Durban, KwaMashu and Inanda.  During the apartheid era, non-whites were confined within these townships.  Today it is interesting to see that some larger homes are virtually overlooking a row of shacks.  It has been reported that the owners of the more upscale homes are less than thrilled to see the continued growth of shacks rather than homes outside their windows.  One could argue that the overpopulation of families in dilapidated two-room shacks is another prime example of how the local and national governments have not been able to accomplish their goal to expand urban development projects.  Nonetheless, despite their extreme poverty, many of the individuals we saw throughout the townships could not have looked more excited to be there.  Children, traditional healers, and young people taking vans home from work were all smiles when we passed by.  I find it heartwarming to see people who can manage to smile and appreciate the simplicity of the life they have been given, but I do hope that the township areas will be able to see more progress in the future.

This drive through the townships prompted me to consider post-apartheid socio-economic developments a bit more.  Many South Africans pride themselves as being citizens of a young nation that finally values equality.  Truthfully, it is encouraging to see how the ANC appears dedicated to reversing the shameful effects of the white majority rule.  However, it seems that change has been moving at a rather gradual pace over the last twenty years.  It is evident that countless non-whites still live in poverty, and a large number of whites in Durban hire blacks as maids, gardeners, or gatekeepers so that these individuals will not be out on the street.  Along the same line, self-service gas pumps have been banned in South Africa because the gas pump attendants rely on the full service option for their income; allowing the self-service option would actually lead to worker strikes.  These practices would probably never seem thoroughly acceptable in the United States, but the service industry in South Africa operates differently.  Because the apartheid era ended only a short time ago, it will no doubt take quite a while for the new nation to really begin to appear post-racial in the socio-economic sense.  I think South Africa has made a good deal of progress though, especially when compared to other countries within the continent.  In Durban neighborhoods alone, I have seen individuals from a variety of nationalities and religions peacefully coexisting without any supremacist or xenophobic concerns toward the growing influx of international immigrants to the area.  It will be exciting to see how relations continue to improve after another twenty years.

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