Soweto – heart of the nation
From its beginnings as a creation of apartheid South Africa, Soweto has become the vibrant trendsetting heart of Johannesburg, the City of Gold. It is a cultural melting pot of over a million black people many of whom remain there because of its heritage as the centre of the struggle against apartheid.
There are rumoured to be more millionaires in Soweto than in any other part of South Africa. From the poorer parts such as Kliptown to the upmarket suburb of Diepkloof Extension one can experience the full spectrum of life in an African “city”. Heritage sites, restaurants, clubs, shebeens (uniquely South African watering holes) and interesting inexpensive accommodation make Soweto a must for tourists to experience the friendship, the contrasts and the friendliness of this unique place.
Soweto – a must for tourists to experience the friendship, the contrasts and the friendliness of this unique place.
Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic engine of South Africa, it is the most metropolitan township in the country and sets the trends in fashion, music and dance as well as in more serious matters such as politics.
The Maponya Mall is on a par with many of the most upmarket shopping malls in South Africa where you will find all of the major local and international brands, restaurants and a cinema complex.
The history of Soweto
Although the name sounds African it is in fact an acronym of “South Western Township” established in the early days of Johannesburg to house the labour supply for the mining industry. Labour was drawn from many parts of Southern Africa and this was the origin of the diversity of cultures.
Klipspruit, the first suburb of Soweto was established in 1904 as part of the plan to segregate the population on racial grounds and to keep Johannesburg “white”. Overpopulation and lack of infrastructure has plagued Soweto since these early days but it has nevertheless evolved into a metropolis of some forty suburbs. From the typical corrugated iron shacks to multi-million rand mansions – you’ll see it all in Soweto.
Soweto has become an international “brand” because of the pivotal role it played in the creation and eventual downfall of the apartheid system.
Although the apartheid regime continued to relocate black people to Soweto from “white” Johannesburg, little was done to improve infrastructure and so for much of its history Soweto struggled under the weight of very poor living conditions. However, in the true spirit of Africa, the people of Soweto made the best of it and created a rich culture which continues to evolve. Since 1995 when the new Government came to power, much has been done to upgrade the infrastructure and to beautify Soweto by creating parks and planting trees.
Soweto has become an international “brand” because of the pivotal role it played in the creation and eventual downfall of the apartheid system. The student uprising in 1976 as well as the defiance campaigns of the 1980’s began in Soweto and spread from there throughout South Africa.
Many world famous sons and daughters of the apartheid struggle once lived in Soweto – Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Walter and Albertina Sisulu and many others.
Hector Pieterson, the youth who was shot dead by the police in the Student Uprising in 1976, came to symbolise the uprising as it spread throughout the country and changed the course of history in South Africa.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994 the Soweto landscape has changed dramatically. Electrical, road and sanitation infrastructure has been upgraded. Parks have been created and treed. Mansions have been built by the rich and famous.
Heritage sites in memory of the struggle years have been created. Restaurants, nightclubs, bed and breakfasts and hotels have sprung up to cater for the growing tourist trade.
The Soccer World Cup spawned the magnificent Soccer City stadium which hosted the opening and the closing of the biggest sporting event in the world.
The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto is the largest hospital in the world occupying 173 acres with 3200 beds and 6760 staff members.
The hospital was built in 1941 for convalescing soldiers from World War II. Field Marshall Jan Smuts noted during the opening ceremony that the hospital would be used for the area’s local black population after the war. Since then the hospital has become one of the most advanced medical facilities in South Africa. In 1997 it was named in honour of the African National Congress leader who was assassinated by white extremists in 1993.