Born a Crime

by

Trevor Noah

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An abbreviated form of “South Western Townships,” a black township in Johannesburg where most of Trevor’s family lives and he frequently visits in his childhood (although he cannot go outside because he looks colored). It is an enormous, bustling area with approximately one-third to one-half of Johannesburg’s population, but is best known in the international eye for the 1976 mass protests against the apartheid regime, during which the South African government slaughtered protesting schoolchildren. But police violence is always commonplace in Soweto—Trevor notes that the district is intentionally built with only two roads in and out so that, in the event of an uprising, the government can prevent people from leaving and bomb or massacre them. Nevertheless, Trevor adores Soweto’s “aspirational quality,” because everyone builds their houses for themselves, has to make do in the informal economy, and has a driveway (even though nobody has a car).

Soweto Quotes in Born a Crime

The Born a Crime quotes below are all either spoken by Soweto or refer to Soweto. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Born a Crime published in 2016.
Chapter 3 Quotes

There is something magical about Soweto. Yes, it was a prison designed by our oppressors, but it also gave us a sense of self-determination and control. Soweto was ours. It had an aspirational quality that you don't find elsewhere. In America the dream is to make it out of the ghetto. In Soweto, because there was no leaving the ghetto, the dream was to transform the ghetto.

For the million people who lived in Soweto, there were no stores, no bars, no restaurants. There were no paved roads, minimal electricity, inadequate sewerage. But when you put one million people together in one place, they find a way to make a life for themselves. A black-market economy rose up, with every type of business being run out of someone's house: auto mechanics, day cafe, guys selling refurbished tires.

Related Characters: Trevor Noah (speaker), Trevor’s Grandmother / Frances Noah
Related Symbols: The Secondhand Volkswagen
Page Number: 40-41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

So many black families spend all of their time trying to fix the problems of the past. That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation. My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero. Working for the family in Soweto, my mom had no more freedom than she'd had in Transkei, so she ran away. She ran all the way down to the train station and jumped on a train and disappeared into the city, determined to sleep in public restrooms and rely on the kindness of prostitutes until she could make her own way in the world.

Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
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Soweto Term Timeline in Born a Crime

The timeline below shows where the term Soweto appears in Born a Crime. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...take as a response to international pressure over its human rights abuses. She moves from Soweto to downtown Johannesburg—which is illegal because downtown is reserved for whites (blacks have to carry... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
On holidays, Patricia also brings Trevor to visit her family in Soweto, which is literally “designed to be bombed” in the case of rebellion, intentionally built with... (full context)
Chapter 3
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
...grandfather, the ironically named and happily-divorced Temperance Noah, who is gregarious and extremely popular among Soweto’s women. He is bipolar, but the family does not know that until much later; he... (full context)
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
The house in Soweto is usually full of women: Trevor’s aunt Sibongile, who dominated her wannabe abusive husband Dinky,... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
This woman-centric household is the norm in Soweto: whereas Trevor is merely estranged from his father because of race, other children’s fathers are... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
Soweto is “magical” because of its “aspirational quality”; it has little infrastructure and no formal businesses,... (full context)
Chapter 4
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
...much later. He thinks it is just “because Trevor is Trevor.” He is famous in Soweto: giving directions, people say, “at the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
...it is useful to know the language of your oppressor”), and Sotho (commonly spoken in Soweto). Once, an Afrikaner shopkeeper tells his security guard to watch out for “those blacks”—Patricia responds... (full context)
Chapter 5
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
Identity, Belonging, and Community Theme Icon
...“a product of [his mother’s] search for belonging.” Her parents are forced to move to Soweto and divorce soon after having her; Patricia is “the problem child” and fights constantly with... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
When Patricia is 21, her aunt gets sick, so she has to return to Soweto. This is when she takes the typing course and works as a secretary—but all her... (full context)
Chapter 6
Love and Personal Growth Theme Icon
Resilience Through Religion, Education, and Humor Theme Icon
...a nightmare child: he reads endlessly, eats “like a pig” (and always gets seconds in Soweto), and needs “constant stimulation and activity”; he frustrates nannies and teachers, despite his “good manners.”... (full context)
Chapter 16
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
...from owning property, and the area gradually filled with squatters before and during apartheid. Unlike Soweto, which has continually grown since its foundation, Alex is completely surrounded by white suburbs and... (full context)
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
One night, a rival crew from Soweto invites Hitler for a dance-off against their best dancer. He loses, and the party dissolves... (full context)
Chapter 18
Racism, Apartheid, and the Cycle of Poverty Theme Icon
...they understand that “it happens,” and not to worry. Patricia takes Andrew and Trevor to Soweto, and a few weeks later, Abel comes to apologize. Frances encourages Patricia to give him... (full context)