Soweto, a city created as a township for black people under the apartheid government, is located south of Johannesburg. The majority of the fight against apartheid was conducted in and out of Soweto. During the apartheid era, the abbreviation “Soweto” was created from the initial letters of the phrase “southwestern township.”
Over two million people live in Soweto, where houses range from opulent mansions to improvised shacks. A city of commerce and cross-cultural contact is Soweto. With attractions like Kliptown (where the Freedom Charter was drafted), the former president Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Petersen Memorial site, restaurants, and retail centres, it is a well-liked tourist destination. It has one of the biggest hospitals on the continent and the sole privately operated clinic owned by an African (see Soweto Map).
The southwestern edge of Johannesburg is home to the vast township of Soweto, or more precisely, a collection of townships. The first township to be constructed was Orlando when Soweto was founded in the 1930s. More black residents from “black patches” in the inner city, which the apartheid government had designated for whites, were transferred there in the 1950s.
Though unintentional, Soweto’s rise was remarkable. Waves of migrant labourers travelled from the countryside and neighbouring countries in search of work in the city of gold despite government efforts to curb the entry of black workers to the cities. The township, which has a population of over 2 million, is the largest urban black community in Africa and has a long political history. Political campaigns to topple the apartheid state were centred in Soweto. The Soweto revolt of 1976, commonly referred to as the student rebellion, originated in Soweto and extended throughout the rest of the nation. Therefore, a lot of the attractions along the heritage trail have political significance.
Sowetans take pride in being urbane and street-smart. The moegoes (country bumpkins) from the rural areas are looked down upon by them. The majority of the locals are detribalized and entrenched in the city. Soweto is a mash-up of South African cultures and has grown its own sub-cultures, particularly among the younger generation. Although strongly felt, Afro-American influence has been modified for the region. Sowetans exhibit a sense of sophisticated global cosmopolitanism in their speech, attire, and walking style. Tsotsitaal, a continually growing local dialect used primarily by the young in Sowetan, is an eclectic mash-up of numerous local languages, including Afrikaans and street slang.
One may enjoy a comprehensive view of Soweto from the footbridge of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the biggest on the continent. There are a lot of greys, four-room homes in Diepkloof that residents humorously refer to as “matchbox houses.” These are the initial houses built to house the first black settlers who came to the cities in search of greener pastures. The locals take pride in their modest dwellings, and many of them work hard to make them habitable and even pleasant. In contrast to these depictions of poverty, a variety of “extensions” that cater to the relatively wealthy have been developed. One illustration is the expanding black middle class in Diepkloof Extension. Beautiful homes, well-kept roads, parks, and schools are all features of the area.
The homes of well-known anti-apartheid campaigners are further fascinating sights. Orlando, the original township of Soweto, is only a few kilometres away from Diepkloof. Here, you can go to Nelson Mandela’s initial home, which is a well-liked tourist destination (see left). This is where Mandela stayed before his 1961 imprisonment. Although security guards won’t let you in, the simple house is visible from the street.
In an upscale area of Orlando West, you can also catch a peek at Winnie Madikizela-residence. Mandela’s In the same neighbourhood as the Sisulu home and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum lies the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A thorough account of the events of 1976 is provided by the fully refurbished museum, along with pictures and testimonies from eyewitnesses.
Visit the Credo Mutwa hamlet in Central Western Jabavu to gain insight into traditional African medical treatment. A traditional healer and foreteller from Africa named Mutwa claim to have predicted important political events like Chris Hani’s murder in 1994. He encourages respect for indigenous cultural customs and ways of knowing.
You may find Regina Mundi along the Old Potchefstroom Road, a neighbourhood church that served as a base for numerous anti-apartheid organizations. The cathedral is full of political history and embodies the spirit of resistance. Visit Freedom Square in Kliptown, where the Congress Alliance approved the Freedom Charter as its guiding principle.
A variety of political and cultural groupings representing various constituencies came together to discuss how to go forward in the 1950s’ oppressive environment. The African National Congress’s founding document, the charter, envisioned a different non-racial system in which “all shall be equal before the law.”
Other, less appealing sites are available in Soweto for tourists. One such example is the hostels, which are enormous, prison-like structures built to house male migrant workers from rural areas and other nations. These workers were deemed transient residents of the city and were exploited as inexpensive labour. Some of these have been turned into “family apartments” by the new administration, but their ugly nature hasn’t changed. Squatter camp communities, which are euphemistically referred to as informal settlements, have grown in recent years, and there is obvious poverty there. This is partially attributable to the repeal of the “influx control” laws that forbade rural residents from relocating to urban areas.
Many of the unemployed live in these camps and construct their homes from corrugated iron sheets. These areas are dangerous to live in because they lack essential facilities like power and running water. Homes for the poor lack any kind of yard, and privacy is given up for the good of the neighbourhood. These shacks experience intense summer heat and bitter winter cold.
These individuals have developed a strong feeling of community in spite of their extreme poverty. They continue to look for the elusive gold in Johannesburg. Numerous of these locations bear the names of struggle figures who later fled in response to the call for career advancement. The Mandela squatter colony, which is located seven kilometres from Baragwanath Hospital, is one such encampment.