Welcome to Soweta

We bumped along the dirt track, dust billowing out the back like a thick column of smoke.  The track was deeply rutted from the tread of many vehicles passing through.  The “middle-mannetjie” was high and it was difficult keeping the car steady.  I was afraid of being stranded out here on the outskirts of Soweto, the sprawling African township on the south-western boundary of Johannesburg.

It was Saturday night and the farm laborers wanted to go to Soweto to visit family and friends.  Usually, they would simply ride a convenient black-taxi but on this Saturday all the taxis were out on strike protesting the high price of gas.  They were demanding a government subsidy to cover the cost of their gas consumption.  The strike left thousands of African commuters stranded. These were dangerous times in post-Apartheid South Africa and when the workers asked me to give them a ride to a regular bus station to get home, I agreed.

The buffalo grass was about 4 ft. high on either side of the track.  Thick dust clung to the tall stems giving them an eerie aspect in the headlights. It grew close to the winding track and made visibility difficult as we twisted through the dark, African night. Our headlights would be visible for miles over the open “veld” (savannah), making it easy for a high-jacker to hide in ambush.  I felt a shiver run down my spine.

“O.K. men, here we are, there’s the bus stop”.

“Dankie Miss”. (thank you Ma’am).  

They disappeared like ghosts in the darkness.  I could sense Selina hesitating.  

“What’s the matter Selina”?  

“My Son should be here to get me”.  

“What time did he say he’d be here?”  

“Half past seven”.

“It’s already twenty-to-eight, would he wait for you to come?”  


I anxiously glanced around the bleak scene.  A deserted, dilapidated, “Spaza” (roadside convenience shack) creaked in the wind, a loose shutter banging monotonously.  Against the faded, dirty paint someone had painted a brilliant Coca-Cola sign which looked like the crooked gash of an evil mouth.  A battered car was parked in the deserted street under the only light, which gave a kind of washed out look to the scene. I couldn’t tell if there was anyone inside. Trash was everywhere.  In the distance I could hear dogs barking and incongruously, a cock crowed (witchcraft!).  My nerves prickled.  I was a white woman driving a reasonably new car.  Easy pickings for a criminal.  I didn’t want to leave my domestic worker, Selina, here by herself.  We were both targets.  If only her son would arrive.  At last we saw headlights approaching and we anxiously waited to see if this vehicle would bring her son or calamity to our side.  

“It’s him.” Selina hissed with relief in her voice.  

“Wait until he stops to make sure before you get out of the car.”  

I had the motor running, ready to speed off if trouble came.

“It’s him”.  

Selina hurried to her son.  I hurried back home.


Maureen Thompson


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