Soweto (a shortened version of South Western Townships) has recently become an urban suburb of the City of Johannesburg. Although previously a separate municipality, Soweto has always played a major role in the history, identity and character of Johannesburg and Gauteng. Today, it is still a hub of excitement and a veritable tourist hotspot, representing much of the colour and diversity of South Africa as a nation.
Soweto was one of the first of the segregationist planning processes in Gauteng, and was positioned about 20 kilometres from the City of Johannesburg. These homes were established to accommodate the black labourers that worked mainly in the local mines. These ones were not permitted to live in the city centre or formal neighbourhoods, and all non-white folk were forced to occupy the informal settlements further afield. Forced removals in the 1950’s meant that many non-white folk lost their family homes and were sent with nothing to the outlying regions of the city. Soon, these communities grew and grew, and eventually developed their own culture and society. A large part of this new social norm was based on the political and societal upheavals experienced. Today, there are well over one million residents in Soweto.
It is a cosmopolitan township that has been affected by the razzle-dazzle of the City of Gold. It has also been home to a number of well-known South African figures. These include Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Baby Jake Matlala, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Trevor Noah.
Guided township tours of Soweto are a must for anyone in the region. These usually cover the main historical spots and events, introduce visitors to locals, showcase local schools, and visit some community projects or charity initiatives. Local cuisine and beers can usually be sampled, which gives tourists an opportunity to savour the traditional types of ingredients, dishes and flavours of the African folk.
Some of the local attractions for which Soweto has become a world-renowned tourist hotspot include:
The Hector Pieterson Museum
Hector Pieterson was a 13-year old boy that was killed by police gunfire in the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The photo of him dying in the arms of a frantic student alongside his sister made it around the world, and became an icon of the South Africa struggle of the time. This museum is dedicated, not only to this boy, but to the entire struggle and how it shaped the country.
These towers have been revamped after being rendered useless as cooling towers, and are now the colourful adrenalin hub for bungy jumping, power swinging, rap jumping, base jumping, rock climbing, and more. Adrenalin-junkies from all over the world come here to test their limits at Orlando Towers.
Explore the neighbourhoods, some of which are quite well developed while others remain more rustic and basic, at the comfortable speed of a bicycle ride. It is not only informative, but appeals to the heart of those learning about the diversity and multi-faceted appeal of this fascinating township.