“Slumdog Millionaire” may have been the big winner at last week’s Oscars, scooping up Best Picture at the culmination of a highly acclaimed run, but while I thoroughly liked the film, I couldn’t help but remember its African counterpart a few years ago. “Tsotsi” won the best foreign-language film Oscar in 2006 and is the tale of a young gangster living in Johannesburg’s wondrously expansive slum (“township” is the term in South Africa) Soweto. The story, the acting and the music are all top-notch and, as far as I could tell, a realistic picture of Soweto.
Johannesburg in some ways reminds me of Mexico City: even before you enter the city limits, tales of excessive crime and violence haunt your arrival. But once inside, you discover the other parts — the lush nightlife, the interesting people, the rich culture.
Soweto is perhaps most famous for being its uprisings in ’76 — when black student protesters and South African authorities clashed at the height of apartheid. But when I was there one afternoon almost two years ago, wandering past the pastel-colored houses in the new middle-class sections, stopping at Nelson Mandela’s old house, eating at a street-side restaurant, and riding in a shared van past rows and rows of too-close shacks in that township, I could only think of how far South Africa had come — and how much more it still has to go.
Below, one of the best songs from the movie. It’s practically an anthem of Soweto: