Fri Oct 21 20:38:07 SAST 2016

Discord extends from struggle heroes, to BEE, to amenities for poor

By unknown | Nov 23, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Step out of the lift on the first floor of the Kliptown Holiday Inn and you enter the Long Walk to Freedom, the impressive passage leading to the Oliver Tambo presidential suite.

Step out of the lift on the first floor of the Kliptown Holiday Inn and you enter the Long Walk to Freedom, the impressive passage leading to the Oliver Tambo presidential suite.

The 48-roomed hotel boasts two presidential suites, which will set you back R2140 a night. Less elaborate single rooms cost a mere R1490 a night.

The hotel is a recent addition to the giddy development of Soweto that is putting a new face on the historic, sprawling township.

The luxury international hotel is plonked in Walter Sisulu Freedom Square, where the Congress of the People adopted the Freedom Charter in 1955.

Today the area also boasts the Freedom Charter Monument, which includes a resource centre and a mixed-income residential development. Alongside the new scenes of luxury are RDP houses for low-income families.

These developments are part of the Greater Kliptown Development project, driven by the government of Gauteng and the Johannesburg municipality.

The multimillion-rand project is only one part of a government drive to change the face of Soweto for the better.

Areas such as Walter Sisulu Square, Vilakazi Street in Orlando West and the Hector Pieterson Memorial, lure tourists to the once-forbidding township.

Foreign visitors now stroll through these attractions to learn about the anti-apartheid struggle.

And all around, restaurants and guesthouses mushroom where visitors can also experience Soweto's culinary variety, hospitality and other delights.

Despite these developments, Soweto still faces massive challenges. Given the history of the liberation struggle, impatient residents often express their unhappiness with the pace of change in language and actions learnt in the recent past.

Some already gripe that the owners of the Kliptown Holiday Inn decided to honour only ANC leaders.

"If that hotel wants to capture the history of the struggle of this country, then it must include pictures of other struggle heroes such as Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe and Zephania Mothopeng," says veteran photographer Dan Tleketle.

He is also miffed by the boom in big businesses like the Maponya Mall because many of the national chains with shops in these establishments are not owned by black people.

"Where is black economic empowerment? Malls like Maponya have expensive franchises like Mugg & Bean, which are out of reach for the ordinary black entrepreneur. This means the people of Soweto still give their money to the people who excluded them from the economy."

Tleketle's dim views are shared by author and veteran journalist Sophie Tema. She gripes that the first prominent hotel built in Soweto does not acknowledge someone many people regard as the father of Soweto, Sofasonke Mpanza.

The man who came to be known as the father of squatters in Soweto, led the struggle to force the apartheid regime to build family houses in townships such as Orlando, Mofolo and Moroka.

"Mpanza was the father of Soweto. He was a community leader who forced the government to eventually provide family accommodation for people in Soweto.

"He should be honoured for that," she says.

Tema is also distressed by the trend of schools closing "because parents are unhappy with the quality of education in the townships".

These historic schools were once centres of community development, but Tema says the government is incapable of resourcing them properly.

Tleketle and Tema also question the quality of the infrastructure that is supposed to improve the township. Streets might now be tarred, but many lack stormwater drainage.

"The street lights are there, but when they stop working no one comes to repair them," says Tema.

Other veteran residents of Soweto are more chuffed that the township has developed into a thriving city with the kind of community spirit that stamps it as home to millions.

Mofolo-born Oupa Manala notes there were times when people aspired to little more than to leave Soweto.

"Today people regard Soweto as a place where one can stay and raise children," he says proudly.

He now lives in Orlando Gardens.

But the veterans lament how these changes have affected the community of Soweto.

"Today people do not connect at a human level. They have become more materialistic. They meet in pubs and give each other recognition by virtue of the fact that they can afford to be at such an upmarket place," says Moss Tau.

Carly Dibakwane, who runs the Dance Academy at Uncle Tom's in Orlando West, also decries the scourge of materialism that has enveloped Soweto.

"Today, kids come to the dance academy not because of their passion, but because they see this as an opportunity to be dancers on some TV programme or as cheerleaders for clubs.

"The passion and the spirit of commitment that existed in our days of youth clubs is no more," says Dibakwane.

For him the arts are about material and spiritual development, but he says the youth are driven solely by the material world. The danger, Dibakwane says, is that they end up compromising themselves to benefit materially. This mindset also opens them up to being abused by unscrupulous operators.

Those with misgivings about the development of Soweto criticise the government's policy on housing the poor. They say RDP houses the government builds for the poor are of poor quality and lower human dignity because they undermine privacy.

"When it comes to the poor, this government seems to continue to pursue apartheid special development patterns where those who cannot afford [better housing] are settled far from their sources of livelihood and amenities," says Manala.


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