Soweto Mini Guide
Soweto in a Nutshell
Soweto is in the city of Johannesburg
in South Africa. Its name comes from abbreviation of Southern Western Townships and covers a huge 63sq km area with a population of over 3 million residents. It is a city of contrasts where shanty towns sit next to affluent housing and streams sit next to rubbish tips. It is one of the poorest districts in Johannesburg but it is slowly improving – the council has proposed more green areas and new malls have been built to bring money into Soweto.
A Little History
The city is most famous for the Soweto uprising in 1976 when mass protests started due to government policy, that all children should be taught in Afrikaans instead of English. 23 people died on the first day of the uprising, including a 12 year old boy, when police open fired on the protestors. The protests were seen worldwide and sanctions were enforced from abroad. The township became to represent the horrors of apartheid and violent oppression by the state.
How Can I Get There?
From Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport
you can drive to Soweto using the N1 highway. Mini buses and taxis are also available from the airport. Metrorail has trains between Johannesburg city centre and stations in Soweto.
Is There Anything for me to do in Soweto?
A tour of the city is an absolute must, especially with the services of a local guide and long term resident. Not only will you understand a little more about the city and its history but also the people and their spirit, even in the city’s darkest days. You will probably visit the Nelson Mandela National Museum, where he once lived and see artefacts from his history and personal items. Other museums in the area are the Kliptown Open Air Museum and the Apartheid Museum. On a night time tour, you would be drinking with the locals at their ‘shebeens’ and being entertained along the way.
Are There any Special Events?
For all sports fans, the Soweto Open tennis tournament and the Soweto Marathon are held in the city. The Soweto Wine Festival is an important event there, with 100 of South Africa’s wineries competing for your tastebuds – it attracts over 7,500 visitors over the 3 evenings it is open.
Can I eat There?
You should eat there and meet the locals. A popular choice is Wandies Place in Dube, where diners sit at long tables and chat whilst Wandie cooks. He serves a buffet of traditional food including beef potjie and dumplings and ting, a kind of porridge. Sakhumzi is near to Nelson Mandela National Museum and has indoor and outdoor seating. There you can try old school Sowetan cuisine like ithanga (mashed squash) with grilled chicken or umnqusho (samp made from dried corn and beans).
The name Soweto is engraved on the mind of every South African and much of the world too as the place where innocent children and adults were killed by the authorities in 1976 in a protest over education. Soweto today is as safe as anywhere else for tourists to visit.
Hire a car and book an overnight stay at one of the many bed and breakfast establishments to experience life there. Visit the house, now a museum, where Nelson Mandela grew up or the museum celebrating the life of the philanthropist Hector Pietersen who was killed in the uprising.