- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

SOWETO, South Africa — The houses of the Diepkloof Extension on a ridge in Soweto would not look out of place in a leafy English suburb.

Large and comfortable, they have neat gardens behind high walls, and are home to the newly wealthy black middle class of a township once renowned for violence and poverty.

The Wass art gallery, Soweto’s first, opened last year and sells works for as much as $3,600.

But only a few minutes away, still within the 45 square miles of the township’s sprawl, the urban poor live in shacks without electricity or running water.


Johannesburg’s rail company SARCC last week started a luxury express service for affluent Soweto commuters. At the same time, police were announcing national crime statistics revealing that the numbers of some offenses had more than doubled.

With Internet access on board and uniformed attendants serving refreshments, the Soweto Business Express will be radically different from the overcrowded, delay-prone normal service.

And each car will have its own armed guard, said Pule Mabe of SARCC. “Our cabin crew members are also going to be skilled in basic security issues,” he added. “It’s just to enhance the element of comfort.”

It will be a privilege reserved for only a few, as monthly tickets will cost 310 rand, around $44.5 — three and a half times the usual fare.

“Who will go for such a train? Of course it’s for the rich people, not the poor,” said Phumnani Dlamini, 18, as he arrived home from school at Dube station in Soweto. “They only think of getting richer; they ignore us.”

Poverty is blamed by many for soaring crime, and statistics for the first four months of the year show bank robberies up 118 percent, business robberies up more than half, and home burglaries up more than a quarter.

Murders were up by only 2.4 percent, but still stood at almost 53 a day. Reported rapes were down 5.2 percent, but the total was still 52,617.

No one, not even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is immune. His house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto was broken into last month, despite an electric fence and a security company providing armed response. His Nobel Peace Prize medal was stolen, although it was later recovered.

“We still have a long way to go before the majority of people in Soweto see a substantial increase in their access to jobs and education,” said his daughter Nontombi Tutu, 47, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., but visits several times a year.

There are “mixed feelings” about the rise to wealth of a small minority, particularly those who have benefited from political connections, she added.

“On the one hand there’s a feeling of pride because 20 years ago we would never have had black millionaires. At the same time there are elements of resentment, with people asking themselves, ‘What is it that lets them become millionaires and not me or my neighbor or my cousin?’ ”

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