P[Oems Essay

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URBAN BLACK TOWNSHIPS A CHALLENGE TO CHRISTIAN MISSION Tinyiko Sam Maluleke HOPE AND DESPAIR, LIFE AND DEATH How can one characterise the black urban township1? Ezekiel Mphahlele (1959:31) described one “location” in the late fifties as ...an organised rubble of tin cans. The streets were straight; but the houses stood cheek by jowl, rusty as ever on the outside, as if they thought they might as well crumble in straight rows if that was to be their fate. Each house, as far as I remember, had a fence of sorts. The wire always hung limp, the standards were always swaying in drunken fashion. A few somewhat pretentious houses could be found here and there. But the township, with its squalor and “pretentious” contrasts, inspires not only revulsion; it inexplicably invokes “admiration” and a weird sense of belonging. A stanza from a poem entitled “Alexandra” (Serote 1972:3) expresses the author's weird bondedness to Alexandra, the 1Although semantically, even in terms of government nomenclature, the word “township” is not exclusive to urban areas of black residence, in South Africa the word has come to refer almost automatically to black residential areas. Townships have now become a national aspect of South African settlement patterns. On the outskirts of most cities and towns, in both urban and rural areas, there is one or more black townships. Homeland-created “cities” have in fact been some kind of glorified townships, adorned by “parliamentary” buildings, government offices, a hotel and a shopping centre. For a discussion of urbanisation in the homelands, see Smit & Booysen (1977).The specific focus of this paper, is however not only “urban townships” but especially those in the Johannesburg-Pretoria areas. A dated, but very helpful statistical overview of black urban areas is given by Wilson 1972:29f. It is unfortunate that Wilson, whose specific object of inquiry

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