What I learnt from growing up in Soweto

My childhood memories are very positive, despite some of the hardships like seeing my father abusing my mother. Somehow that wasn’t a focal point for me, because our home was generally loving and busy most of the time. I grew up in my Gogo’s (grannies) home in Soweto, a township in the south of Johannesburg in South Africa. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience “the best of both worlds” in that I went to a private school daily, but came back to a township with extremely contrasting surroundings. For starters, I would have to wake up at 5am to get into a cramped mini bus that would collect 15 or so other children around the township before heading towards the western suburbs of Johannesburg where my school was. The daily trip to school would take about two hours and we followed the same routine to get home in the evenings too; while the majority of my school mates had their parents waiting outside when the school bell rang.

In Soweto, I got to see the principles of Ubuntu in practice, because in a township, you are taught to share with your neighbours. There was no shame in knocking on your neighbour’s door to ask for sugar or to borrow some money for your taxi fare the next day. We were taught to be disciplined in and outside of our homes, omunye umzali (another parent) could discipline if you were out of line. I remember how my friend’s dad would whip us in the street, in full view of everyone, if we were caught talking to boys or misbehaving in any other way. He would then take us home and relay the story to our parents, who approved of the punishment. An adult was respected irrespective of whether they were a family member or not.


I remember feeling very safe too. In the holidays, my friends and I would walk a long distance between different sections of Soweto for hours, without any fear. Our biggest concern was whether or not our moms gave us R1 for the day. With our R1’s we could buy “ice” (frozen flavoured ice-blocks) and go to e’mbampareni (a trampoline that someone would put up and charge us 20cents for a 5 minute turn). My school mates would go on various beach holidays, but this didn’t bother me, it motivated me to dream big (day dream at the time). I started noticing the extremes of township life when I moved into the teenage years, I saw some of my acquaintances having children as early as standard 7 (grade 9), young people experimenting with drugs and knives and violent family feuds being more common in the neighbourhood. My parents tried to keep me away from this, by allowing me to go to school camps and encouraging me to go to modelling classes.


There are so many stories to share, that it would be impossible for me to put it all in one post, but overall, I feel grateful and proud to have grown up in Soweto. The dynamics of the township have enabled me to relate to people from all kinds of backgrounds, to be street-wise, open minded and non-judgemental. In Soweto, I learnt accountability and responsibility and that my future is in my hands. I learnt survival, I saw what failure and a lack of discipline looked like. Now that I am a mom, my childhood experiences make me appreciate every effort that my parents made to provide me with the best they could. I also recognise and appreciate the power of a community of people that stand together and support each other. That is the kind of community I want to build through Modern Zulu Mom.


Thank you Soweto


Modern Zulu Mom

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