Soweto, Gauteng Province, South Africa
Soweto is an urban settlement or ‘township’ in South Africa, southwest of Johannesburg, with a population of approximately 1.3 million
Soweto was created in the 1930s when the minority white government started moving black South Africans out of Johannesburgand separating them from the white citizens. They were moved to an area, usually separated from white suburbs by what was effectively a cordon sanitaire or sanitary corridor. This was sometimes a railway track, a river, an industrial area or a highway. This was done under the Urban Areas Act of 1923. Soweto stands for South West Township – not even a real name, but an acronym.
Although Soweto became the largest Black city in South Africa, until 1976 its population had status only as temporary residents, serving as a workforce for Johannesburg and ‘welcome for as long as they served the wants of the white South Africans’. There were periods of civil unrest during the Apartheid regime because of the appalling conditions in Soweto. The Soweto Riots were sparked by a ruling that Afrikaans was to be used in African schools. What started as a peaceful demonstration of school children marching to present their petition against this law to the Government turned into a tragedy when Police fired on the students, killing 176 and injuring more than 1,000. These riots and their suppression came to the attention of the world when a photograph by Sam Nzima of the mortally wounded 13 year old Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, another Soweto resident, while his sister ran next to them, was smuggled out of the country and published. Reforms followed, but riots flared up again in 1985 and continued until the first multiracial elections were held in April 1994.
Odyssey Traveller includes a visit to Soweto as part of its South Africa small group tour program for mature and senior travellers couples and single travellers.
In 1990, just a day after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela addressed tens of thousands at Soweto’s Soccer Cityor Calabash Stadium saying “Our people need proper housing, not ghettos like Soweto.” Today, 20 years after the end of the apartheid system, Soweto has become a microcosm of the prosperity, poverty and everything in between experienced by the black population of South Africa. Across the railway tracks, can be seen the tiny houses with corrugated zinc sheet roofing, haze from the fuel stoves and lots people wearing very colourful clothing. However, there are butcher shops which turn into bars at night, there is music and noise. There are tiny stores selling the necessities to the community from a front room. There is incredible vibrancy. Tourists can visit the black townships of Soweto, but abuse can happen and they can be told ‘our poverty is not a tourist destination’. Discretion is required.
Public housing is being constructed to improve the lives of the people, but as soon as a family group moves into the better houses, they sell or gift their Soweto house to others migrating to South Africa from countries to the north.
In 2010, South Africa’s oldest township hosted the FIFA Soccer World Cup final and the attention of more than a billion soccer spectators from all over the world was focused on Soweto.