Confirmation of how Johannesburg and its most infamous township are becoming one--and how Joburg is changing from a place to escape to a destination--could come in a little over a year's time, on July 11, 2010. The World Cup final will be played at Soccer City, the spectacularly revamped 94,000-seat stadium shaped like an African calabash gourd on the eastern outskirts of Soweto. The world's biggest match, in a sport filled with African stars, played on Africa's premier ground in Africa's most famous township, will most likely have an atmosphere no game has ever seen.
The Cup final will allow the city to showcase the strides that Soweto and Joburg have been making to unify the city where it matters most: economically. Some of the efforts have been painful, others imaginative. For instance, at dawn on June 9, 400 people gathered on a bare patch of red earth outside the Orlando soccer stadium in Soweto for what the organizer, Luther Williamson, had billed as an "extreme park mission." By midafternoon, they had planted 200 trees and 71,000 plants and installed irrigation on 129,000 sq. ft. (12,000 sq m) of former wasteland.
It was the third such green makeover in Soweto for Williamson, the handsome, slightly hyperactive middle-aged man who runs Johannesburg's parks department. His ambition, he says, is for his teams to regreen the entire township. This is not just because trees are nice. "Wherever you make a place greener," says Williamson, "you don't have so many problems. Places where we've put these parks in, crime comes down 38%. Green spaces give people hope. No grime, no crime."
Few cities in the world can match Joburg's terrifying reputation for crime and fear--and it's been that way since it was founded. The city was built not around a port or even because of a pleasant climate (though it does have one) but on greed and haste. A decade after gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886, South Africa's largest and most lawless city appeared on the highveld with a name so hurriedly given, it remains unclear who among three officials called Johann or Johannes gave it.
To these dubious origins, Joburg added racist town planning and, by the late 1990s, some of the world's highest rates of violent crime and HIV/AIDS. Today Joburg has an official population of more than 3 million and forms part of an urban sprawl including Soweto and the national capital, Pretoria, and comprising 8.8 million. That size ushers in all the usual megacity problems--million-dollar apartments overlooking millions of people in slums, rush-hour gridlock, overburdened infrastructure.
It's not surprising that many Joburgers try to shield themselves from all that. Houses in the white-dominated northern suburbs are fortresses of 10-ft.-high (3 m) walls, razor wire, electric fences and armed guards. Joburg's new black middle class has escaped to security estates like Cosmo City. The poor don't have that option--15 years after Nelson Mandela's African National Congress threw off white rule, millions of Joburgers find themselves living in a kind of new economic apartheid in the townships. In the resentment it causes, that division sets the conditions for many of the city's other troubles.