Another blow dealt to the long-term stability of life in Soweto was the habitual boycotting of schools which followed the political successes of the 1976 students' revolt. During the 1980s, the exiled ANC and its internal protest movements urged schoolchildren to vacate* their desks and reject the inferior education offered by the oppressor. 'Liberation Before Education' was the slogan chanted by hundreds of thousands of children for over a decade. Scorning* the warnings of parents who knew from bitter experience how few opportunities were open in a modern economy for people with scant* education, a new generation of Sowetans followed the example of the students of 1976 and sacrificed their educations in the interests of the struggle.
By 1990, having realised how damaging a policy school boycotts would prove in years to come, the ANC urged children to return to their classrooms. But by then the damage was done. The majority of the children who should have achieved at least a basic education during the previous fourteen years were without qualifications. Some were illiterate. They had advanced the struggle but in so doing had been left without a viable stake* in the future. Described as 'the lost generation' even by the ANC, or as 'cannon fodder' by more cynical observers, these young men and women were to grow increasingly embittered as they realised that their sacrifice had left them severely handicapped economically.
Poverty has always been the mainspring of Soweto's acute and painful problems. In the mid-1980s, economic conditions deteriorated more rapidly than in the past. With a campaign of countrywide boycotts of schools, white-owned businesses, rent payments and government transport — orchestrated* by the ANC's organisations operating legally inside South Africa — came increasing violence between activists and security forces, and a spate* of repressive laws. The international community responded by launching a barrage* of economic sanctions aimed at forcing a change in government policy. Causing severe losses to industry and commerce, on top of the chaos in the work-force resulting from labour stayaways and sustained violence in the townships, sanctions steadily eroded employment opportunities for blacks. By the 1990s, up to 60 per cent of Soweto's adults were unemployed.
Crime became the most common way for the jobless to get cash. In a desperate situation of entrenched poverty, lack of skills, illiteracy and homelessness, some scavenged*, sold drugs or scrap*, and gambled; others took in washing and ironing or turned to prostitution and begging. But by far the most popular means of survival was stealing.
The escalating crime wave was not confined to the young. Many parents also became unwilling criminals in order to pay school fees and feed their families. Theft became an increasingly accepted norm in Soweto as the community censure* which had controlled it in earlier years fell away. Young children saw adult thieves as role models. A moral distinction emerged between the habitual criminal who stole, raped and killed on a regular basis and the serial thief who felt justified in stealing, often with the aid of violence, because he desperately needed money. An expensively dressed 22-year-old, describing in detail how he and two friends periodically go to Johannesburg in search of a car to steal, looked hurt when referred to in the interview as a thief. 'Don't call me that,' he pleaded.
In the 1990s, crime has become an inescapable part of urban file in South Africa. The contrast between the conspicuous affluence of white suburbs and the squalor of Soweto has made white householders the most legitimate targets. But in the face of the hard economic realities of endemic* unemployment, everyone who is better off becomes a victim, to the extent that residents in the poorer parts of Soweto are unable to leave clothes on a washline unattended.
The hardest hit in the vicious crime wave engulfing Johannesburg are Sowetans themselves, not whites. Whites have resorted to elaborate security measures including killer dogs and electrified fences. But Soweto remains the country's crime hot-spot: illegal acts committed there are more violent than anywhere else in South Africa.
Soweto's crime rate is twice that of New York City (i.e. in the mid-90s). The township's Flying Squad receives four hundred and fifty emergency calls a week. Four corpses are discovered every weekday in Soweto's dusty streets; more over weekends. Many of the victims have been brutally murdered for the sake of the miserable sums of money they were carrying. Over three hundred unnatural deaths are investigated every month.
Source: Born in Soweto by Heidi Holland, Penguin Books, London 1994, pp. 9-11
*to vacate - räumen, verlassen
*to scorn - verachten, verschmähen
*scant - dürftig, gering
* viable stakes - brauchbare Beteiligung
*to orchestrate - inszenieren, organisieren
*spate of - Welle von, Flut von
*barrage - hier: Trommelfeuer (fig.)
*to scavenge - plündern
*scrap - Schrott
*censure - Verweis, Tadel
*endemic - vorherrschend
1. Why did the protest movements encourage pupils to boycott schools and what consequences did these boycotts have on young people in Soweto?
2. How did the international community react on the violence and its effects taking place in South Africa?
3. Crime in urban life of South Africa became commonplace. What effects did it have on whites as well as on blacks?
4. After the abolition of apartheid in S.A., has Nelson Mandela's ANC succeeded in improving black people's lives? Take into account what you have learnt in your course work.
For further, more recent developments in S.A. read:
A Bus System Reopens Rifts in South Africa - from The New York Times of Feb. 22, 2010