'We sleep in the suburb but we live in Soweto'

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The Independent Online

Kgosietsile is my son. His name means "the King has come". He was born in a private clinic in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg in February 2001. Thirty-five years previously, in the same month, I was born in Soweto. In that same year, Nelson Mandela was spending his second year in jail and the architect of grand apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, was stabbed to death.

Kgosietsile is my son. His name means "the King has come". He was born in a private clinic in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg in February 2001. Thirty-five years previously, in the same month, I was born in Soweto. In that same year, Nelson Mandela was spending his second year in jail and the architect of grand apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, was stabbed to death.

Chief, as we call Kgosi nowadays, doesn't know anything about these events. So I'm keen not only to teach him, but for him to experience history first hand. I take him to Soweto for his haircut regularly, without fail. But I want my son to know Soweto, to know where we come from and what happened there. It's immensely worrying for me to think that I may be bringing up a small black middle-class boy, who has no direct connection with his history as a black person in South Africa.

Soweto is critical when it comes to educating my son in the languages of his country. The place helps me to teach him Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Swazi, Afrikaans, Tsotsitaal. All these languages are eloquently spoken in the township, because Soweto is a mix masala, a true reflection of the composition of modern-day South African society.

As well as the three million black people residing there, you'll find a few white faces, of priests, doctors, artists and lots of international tourists. For this reason, I love Soweto: it's where my son can get his bearings right. As Bob Marley once sang: "In this great future we can't forget our past. It is the country of my soul."

Our route to Rockville takes us on the N1 South highway and we exit at the Nasrec off-ramp to drive through Diepkloof extension, the poshest area in the township. Many people in Soweto aspire to own a house there. Then we go to the old Diepkloof, Zone 5. Here houses are made up of three rooms with an inferior dark grey brick, unplastered since they were built by the Government in the early 1940s. On past Baragwanath taxi rank on to Old Potch Road. The rank is full of hundreds of minibus taxis. We reach Orlando garage, famous for its incredibly tasty fish and chips.

Chief can see the shining roofs of Motsoaledi squatter camp, named after the ANC veteran Elias Motsoaledi who was from Orlando West. There's no running water or sewage facilities there. Women are walking with yellow 20-litre drums of water on their heads.

Those women used to fetch cooking water from the local stream, sharing it with dogs, donkeys and goats; now at least they have a standpipe and clean running water. Old Potch cuts through Soweto out to Protea and runs to an end in the small university town of Potchefstroom, FW De Klerk's university. I doubt he ever contemplated visiting our township in his student days.

Chief sees Bethesda Children's home, where the Salvation Army looks after Aids orphans. One result of the stigma that HIV/Aids carries in the townships is that young mothers dump their newborns in dustbins and with strangers. Few want to raise an HIV-positive baby whose life is going to be short - probably under two years without ante-retroviral treatment.

Bathesda home is a small oasis. Chief can see a church with newly renovated pitch-black roof tiles. This is Regina Mundi, home to many anti-apartheid meetings. I remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressing me and hundreds of others in the mid-1980s. I tell Chief about its history; he doesn't understand but he can feel the passion.

We are nearly there. We pass Moroka police station, where I was once an inmate after taking part in a student protest. Finally we arrive at 1st Hair salon. Iggy Koali, the owner, is at the door and he shouts "Heita Chief!". A tiny voice shouts from the back seat of the car: "Heita Iggy!"

Then I feel fulfilled to hear my son greet someone in the language that I used when I was young. They tease him about where he comes from and when he tries a few words there's laughter. He gets his haircut, a number-one style on the clipper. I get mine and we are complete. My brothers and I chickened out of the township but we spend much of our time there for weddings, funerals and family gatherings. So we say we sleep in the suburb but we live in Soweto. Milton Nkosi is the BBC bureaux chief in Africa

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