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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

LIFE SOWETO STYLE (article first published : 2004-01-4)

Covering 120 sq km outside Johannesburg, Soweto is one of the largest black cities in Africa. With a name made up out of “South Western Townships”, it is inhabited by approximately 3.5 million people. These residents are protected by a mere 16 police stations, which boils down to approximately one station per 210,000 people! Only 35% of Soweto dwellers own cars and a paltry number of 14 railway stations have to cope with 300,000 train commuters! Adding to the traffic in and out of Soweto are 600,000 bus and taxi commuters.

So we’re talking a lot of people here! Besides the 300 Christian churches, there is one mosque. There are also 300 crèches, 262 primary schools, 70 high schools, one university and five soccer stadiums … and about 23 millionaires at the time of writing!

So, apart from a lot of people, we are also talking major diversity in lifestyle, ethnic grouping, cultural heritage and financial means.

Durban-based award-winning Durban journalist and columnist Glynis Horning and creative advertising director and food fundi Neil Roake teamed up with Durban-born but Johannesburg based photographer Mark Lanning to produce a publication which illustrates the heartbeat of the unique, cosmopolitan African experience that is Soweto. They describe their experience as a pilgrimage which they urge every tourist, and every South African, to make at least once.

Life Soweto Style is the result of many visits over two years and is a snappy, informative, well-illustrated and impressive book. The text is at the same time respectful and humorous. It paints a vivid picture of the fascinating décor to be found behind the walls of simple shacks or modest homes. The philosophy of “defiant creativity” - making do with what you have and displaying it with style and individuality. If you don’t “have”, then recycle with attitude!

Enterprise and entrepreneurship is synonymous with Soweto from the shebeen queens to spaza shop owners – and where else would you find a mobile same day service dry-cleaner? Soweto fashion is equally dynamic, with beadwork or seshweshwe (German prints) existing side by side with sarongs or street smart formal suits.

The reader is bustled alongside pavement pharmacies, houses with self-assigned street numbers, sprawling murals and advertising billboards.

The photography is excellent, particularly in the section dealing with Soweto food. The chapter proclaims that “Sowetan meals are more about the sharing than the eating” and the images portray to perfection meals such as Umngqusho (samp and beans with onion), Gertrude Lokwe’s Spicy Lentil Soup, roasted mealies and the uniquely South African Chakalaka. Recipes are also provided.

The layout of Life Soweto Style is crisp, clean and vibrant without losing any of the energetic quality of the subject matter. Published by Struik in hardcover with dust jacket it contains 200 full colour photographs and retails at R220. It is aptly described in the words of one of the captions: “I dig you most, my brother!” – Caroline Smart




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