Greening Soweto And Beautifying The Landscape

If you have had the privilege of visiting the worlds second largest continent and know anything about townships in southern Africa, you would understand that they often exhibit very dry and dusty landscapes, accompanied by poor infrastructure and services. They are often considered to be less desirable locations to reside in or even visit unless you have close relatives. And our wish for these places, is often that they can attain the help or governmental backing to make them more livable spaces for our distant family. And Soweto, prior to 2006 was an example of this type of setting. However, this township, unlike many, was revitalized, and today is considered to be Johannesburg’s greatest tourist attraction. Johannesburg City Parks made this possible with the “Greening Soweto” initiative.

In a recent and thought provoking conversation with the Johannesburg City Parks spokesperson – Jenny Moodley, I was made aware of the details and intricacies that made this program possible.

“Our target… became 200 000 trees in the build up to the 2010 Fifa world cup. And thankfully we achieved that target.”, Moodley said. The organization went about planting trees for a period of three years in build up to the 2010 world cup. Using it as a “catalyst” for socio-economic transformation in the township. The effects of this program were felt not only in the improvement of the environment, but also in infrastructure and transport. She  further details it by saying “we were not only planting trees but we were beautifying, tarring these roads, and of course the mall came about, the Maponya Mall, Thokoza park which was revitalized and revamped, the transit system came into play, a whole lot of developments that it had a ripple effect on.”

FNB stadium in Soweto used during the 2010 Fifa World Cup [1]

[1] Sushmita Ghangas, 11 Things To Do In Soweto To Make The Most Of Your Vacation,” Travel Triangle, accessed 11 April 2019, https://traveltriangle.com/blog/things-to-do-in-soweto/
Nelson Mandela planting the 90990th tree on his 90th birthday alongside Graca Machel in Thokoza Park [1]

[1] “Champion Tree proclaimed in Johannesburg,” Brand South Africa, accessed April 11, 2019, https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/people-culture/mandela/champion-tree-proclaimed-johannesburg.

Moodley also spoke on community engagement and how residents took ownership of this movement. “They started to remove that old car that was sitting in front of their yard or outside of it… to beautify their garden, and started renovating homes.” She explained.

I asked her what role landscape architecture played in this refurbishment process and she answered by saying “the park development accelerated”, with the creation of Thokoza Park, Elmon Malele park in Mapetla, Dlamini Eco park and more. She also explained that the creation of these parks was with the intent to push healthy living through a collaboration with Virgin Active, and creating what they call “Green gyms”. Landscaping was clearly critical in their vision for Soweto.

Molefe Park, Green Gym. [1]

[1] Soweto Outdoor Gym Oversubscribed,” EWN, accessed April 11, 2019, https://ewn.co.za/2013/03/13/130313Outdoorgym

It is so important to see the development and progression of places like Soweto, and so many of these settlements exist in southern Africa. Moodley made an awesome commentary on the work of the JCP, stating that “greening did a lot for Soweto” and hopefully one day when I go back home to visit my relatives, I might be able to recognize the very same greening initiative, symbolic of socio-economic change and well being.

Unpublished Interview: Jenny Moodley (Spokesperson for Johannesburg City Parks), interviewed via phone call by Lungile Makore in Perth, Western Australia, 10 April 2019.

Featured Image: “Thokoza Park”, gauteng, accessed 11 April 2019, https://www.gauteng.net/attractions/thokoza_park