A Sunday Jog through Soweto

This morning’s race was in Orlando, Soweto. Many whites refuse on principle to run in the townships. The usual reasons advanced are the lack of cleanliness combined with safety concerns.  Whilst accepting the former as generally a given considering that these areas are populated by the lower classes, in the case of the latter it is no more dangerous to run races in rich or poor suburbs. It might be unchartered territory to run through Soweto but many whites will be surprised both confirming their preconceptions whilst dispelling others. 

This is a journey through one suburb of Soweto. Please join me on my jog.

Main picture: The Orlando Community Hall

The start of the race was at the Orlando Community Hall. Like all such halls in black townships, it is inextricably linked with the liberation struggle.   This hall has been used for many activities including boxing. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Nelson Mandela trained here. A lesser known fact is that when a group of political activists resolved to break away from the ANC and form a new political party, the meeting was held in this hall. At the meeting held on the 6th April 1959, the PAC was formed with Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, an ardent Africanist, who was key to the breakaway, being elected as its founding president.

Orlando Stadium
Orlando Stadium

Diagonally opposite the Community Hall is the Orlando Stadium, the home stadium of Orlando Pirates which is in the Premier Soccer League. It was completely rebuilt and reopened on 22 November 2008 with the intention to be utilized, as a training field, for teams participating in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The revamped stadium now has a capacity of 40,000 people.

Posh house
One of the two posh houses on the way to the start
The starting banner
The starting banner
Road on the way to the start
Road on the way to the start
House on the corner of the start
House on the corner of the start. This is the average quality and standard of the houses in this suburb
The recycler at work
The recycler at work
The runners discussing - a wild guess - running
The runners discussing – a wild guess – running. Ken Swettenham is explaining to Myer Guinsberg how he is shortly going to be able to complete a 21 km race in 2:15
Waiting for the starting gun. The neighbouring house of the elegant dwelling on the right is the ramshackle brick house shown a few photos previously
Waiting for the starting gun. The neighbouring house of the elegant dwelling on the right is the ramshackle brick house shown a few photos previously.
Waiting for starting gun. In the shade it was cool but in the sun it mild
Waiting for starting gun. In the shade it was cool but in the sun it was mild
Elegant house on the left hand side of the road
Elegant house on the left hand side of the road
Posh house on way to the start#1
A church at the first circle
A church at the first circle
Approaching a huge three storey house with ex varsity maths lecturer, John Schochat jogging on the right
Approaching a huge three storey house with ex Wits University maths lecturer, John Schochat, jogging on the right
Close up view of huge 3 storey house. None of the locals could inform me who owned it
Close up view of huge 3 storey house. None of the locals could inform me who owned it
The local dinner preparing a barbecue. It did not look appealing
The local diner preparing a barbecue. It did not look appealing
Eskom's campaign to switch to prepaid metres. Eskom has agreed to write off R4b if the residents switch ti prepaid metres
Eskom’s campaign to switch residents of Soweto onto prepaid metres. Eskom has agreed to write off R4b if the residents switch to these  metres
Further down the road from the alfesco dinner was the green grocer
Further down the road from the alfesco diner was the green grocer. The house in the background sports the ubiquitous satellite dish
Local accommodation - DJ's Inn
Local accommodation – DJ’s Inn. Note the lack of trees and vegetation in general. The litter which is visible on this road was largely created by the runners themselves.
Small house with two DSTV satelitte dishes
Small house with two DSTV satellite dishes
Shack with a huge satellite dish. Residents refuse to pay for electricity but 50% of houses and even shacks have satellite TV
Shack with a huge satellite dish. Residents refuse to pay for electricity but 50% of houses and even shacks have satellite dishes
Donkey cart
Donkey cart carrying coal.  They are now largely a rarity as electricity has replaced coal fired stoves
Half way
Half way
Apartments in Orlando
Apartments in Orlando
Apartments
Apartments
Cooling towers with bungee jump between the towers
Cooling towers with bungee jump between the towers
Free wi-fi areas
Free wi-fi areas
Water table
Water table
Man on stilts
Man on stilts near finish
The finish
Finally: The finish with Myer sprinting ahead

The aspect that is not captured by any of these photographs, is the friendliness of the people of Soweto especially the children. With the paucity of space in the match-box houses, they play in the streets. This is not as unsafe as it sounds due to the dearth of vehicles on the road.

Because I was taking photographs as I jogged, many of the fellow black runners starting conversing with me as if I were a long lost friend. This is indicative not only of runners’ camaraderie but also the local’s reciprocity when interest was shown in their suburb..

3 Comments

  1. Hi Dean, I still have fond memories of the 1st marathon through Soweto in 2013. It was accompagnied by the UN Peace Keeping Force but there was no need for them. I also recall the friendliness of the spectators. The marathon through Soweto was one of the highlights of my SA running career.

    Reply
    • Hi Michael, I am still not sure why people do not want to run in Soweto. They claim that they do not feel safe but I disagree with them

      Reply
  2. I just realized that the date of the 1st Soweto marathon is totally wrong: it was in 1993! I felt safe when running.

    Reply

Leave a Comment.

*