Sandton to Soweto

The last 48 hours have been very atypical for me. Figured I’d take a minute to note down that, since 1pm Thursday, I have:

  1. Seen the insides of both CPT International and OR Tambo for the first time since the lockdowns in 2020. I’ve finally travelled again!
  2. Spent two nights in a Blackbrick – if there’s one startup that’s reimagining the support structure for global digital nomads, this is it.
  3. Went on a full-day tour of Soweto.

I’m still overwhelmed by that last one. If you had asked me a year ago what the % probability was that I’d spend a whole day driving around Soweto, eating magwinya and checking out chicken dusts and ending it off at trending nightclub, the number would be somewhere below zero.

And yet!

Few top-of-mind things:

The township economy is big. I’d understood that theoretically for a while, but seeing it in person is quite something else. It’s also, mostly, invisible – very cash-driven with loads of trade within the community.

It’s incredibly communal. I’ve always thought of townships as a “place”, but it’s really a culture – a culture mostly invisible to those of us in the anglosphere. I feel like I’ve seen the real South Africa now, and I’m optimistic about it.

And finally: It’s not as bad as you think. Once again, I’m reminded that controversy sells. It’s only the most extreme, most agitating version of events that’ll make it to your newsfeed.

It’s by no means easy. I’ve now got a first-hand appreciation for the gravity of otherwise hand-wavy statements like “disproportionate impact on the poor” whenever we’re talking about loadshedding or economic policy. For these families, electricity in the morning can mean the difference between eating and not eating.

But it’s also not exactly a hellscape. If anything, there’s a growth story waiting to be told here. Highest density of entrepreneurs per square meter I’ve ever seen + keenly focused business minds that are able to provide reliable services under tough conditions + expansion already on their minds.

I feel genuinely privileged to have seen inside this world for a day, and I hope more people get the chance.

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