A day in Soweto, South Africa

Travel is not solely about seeing new attractions. We also (should) travel to learn about new ways of doing things, to discover other people’s culture and learn about their history. Soweto is one place that is rich in history, and tells a story of black South Africans’ struggle, and how they have risen to prosperity over the years. The name SOWETO is actually an acronym for South Western Townships. Situated in Johannesburg, it was home to the black population working in the mines during the apartheid era, a government policy at the time, that mandated physical separation of white people from other races. A day in this township is not just a reminder of how brutal the apartheid regime was, but also a celebration of the victory of the black masses.

1. Walter Sisulu Square

 This open square is home to the Kliptown open air museum. It is where delegates met to sign a freedom charter, the foundation of the Bill of Rights and the South African Constitution. The freedom charter outlined the rights that every South African should have, including the people having a share in the nations wealth, and the land being shared amongst the people that worked on it.  This charter was signed in 1955, but by the time the nation became independent in 1994, it was derelict. It has since been revived because of it’s historic significance, and now it is a key feature to tourism in Soweto. The entrance to the museum is free, and there are a lot of arts and crafts for sale around the area. There’s even a hotel next to the museum.

2. Vilakazi Street

It’s safe to say this is the most popular street in Soweto! This street is home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It’s the only street in the world that can claim this feat. One of the attractions is Mandela’s home itself, which has been turned into a museum. You can still see so many of the bullet holes that mark the house, from the numerous times when armed forces tried to kill Mandela. Tutu’s house is still home to the Tutu family. So unless you know someone on the inside, you can’t stroll in. Another reason why the street is so popular, is because it is lined with restaurants, and hosts some of Soweto’s biggest parties! So be sure to come at night if you want to see how the locals party.

3. Hector Peterson Museum

In 1976, the government set to introduce Afrikaans as the official language of instruction in schools, the Afrikaans Medium Decree. It didn’t matter if you understood Afrikaans or not, you still had to sit through the classes and “learn”. As you can imagine, the “oppressor’s language” was not well received, because instead of learning the subject, you were now just trying to understand the language. On June 16 1976, the students took to the streets in protest. It said a young boy named Hector Peterson, who was on his way to school, was caught in the crossfire between police and protestors, and was shot dead. The photo above of a dying Hector was taken during the protest, and became a symbol of the uprising. Hector became the “face” of the protests, and the museum documenting this uprising has been named in his honour. 16 June is commemorated as Youth Day, because of the events of the Soweto Uprising.  The entrance fee to the museum is R30.

4. Orlando towers

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The towers are the most distinctive landmark in Soweto. They are actually a decommissioned coal fired power station. They have since been covered in murals depicting the township life, and turned into an entertainment centre. They are home to the first bungee jump between cooling towers. There are other activities to try around the towers, such as the free fall inside the towers you see in my video. I chose to try this instead since I had gone bungee jumping in Victoria Falls before. Other activities at the towers include rock climbing on the side of the towers, paintball, and a quadbike tour of the area. Visit http://www.orlandotowers.co.za/ for activities’ pricing.

You’ll have worked up an appetite by the time you’re done will all the activities. Enter Chaf Pozi. It’s what the locals call a “shisa nyama”, which means a braai/barbeque restaurant. They also have big screens for sport and great music, a perfect way to end your day in Soweto. You buy your meat at the butchery, and they braai it for you. You can have your meat with “pap”, a traditional  meal made with maize meal, a bit like a stiff porridge. It can be held in a morsel, eaten with vegetables, meat or chakalaka, a local relish. It’s great place to relax, and enjoy some local jams. Visit http://chafpozi.co.za/ for more details

5. Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and Bara Taxi Rank
You’ll see this on your way to/from the sights discussed above. It’s the third largest hospital in the world. The hospital was originally built to care for British and Commonwealth troops. Today, it is open to everyone. Across the road, you will see Bara taxi Rank, the largest taxi and bus rank in Soweto.

6. FNB Stadium

It’s also known as Soccer City, or the Calabash. The stadium was renovated for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. But prior to this it is significant for several reasons. In 1990, Mandela made his first speech here after being released from prison. The 2010 World cup final was played at the Calabash, and this was Mandela’s last public appearance. His memorial service in 2003 was also held here.

Unlike most townships in South Africa, Soweto is home to very successful black people, and some of the homes around this area will make you think that you’re in low density suburb, and that townships aren’t “that bad”. A lot has been invested to revive this township and grow it into the hub it is today. Let’s hope we start to see a similar trend in more disadvantaged areas in the country.

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