Guide To Visiting Soweto

Soweto is basically known to the outside world for being a poor South African slum that the late Nelson Mandela lived. It is true, however there is far more history than that. Soweto’s name was derived from South West Township and was created by the federal government a century ago as an area to displace the Black population from the most important city areas. It is one of the largest townships within the country (townships are essentially slums) and for most of its history, it has served as an space of segregation, extreme poverty, and most significantly, as a middle for apartheid resistance documented by the Soweto Uprisings.

Nowadays, this place has utterly changed. I, like any foreigner, had perceptions of what this “township” would be like; dirty, old, poor, harmful etc. Oh how I was wrong. Sure there are still many parts of Soweto that resemble the nationwide geographic images of poverty in Africa. Nonetheless, with the publish Apartheid surge in the South African financial system, there is a giant and fast rising Black center class. Soweto has come a long ways since its fighting days.

Driving round, I saw nice vehicles all over the place, new buildings, individuals dressed in good clothing. I didn’t really feel threatened at all. Also, throw in the Maponya Mall which rivals that of the nicest malls I’ve seen, and I start to wonder to myself what’s all of the fuss about when it involves Soweto? This place is just not all bad! While culturally, it’s seen as desirable to “make it” and leave the township, people will still come back here to show off their possessions and the way they’ve made it in life, also a sign of how far the country has come economically in the last 20 years.

Nevertheless, compared to Sandton with its immense wealth, Soweto is still incredibly poor and you can clearly see it. There are still shanty towns in every single place like the picture here. I’m not sure if these areas even have electricity. To show how much Soweto has come up in recent years, just a few blocks down the road from these shanty towns will be proper houses in proper neighborhoods. Nonetheless, Soweto is way closer to foreigner’s perceptions of Africa than a city like Sandton.

To further showcase that Soweto will not be the damaging, poor, dirty stereotype that its given, it is definitely one of the top vacationer attractions in Johannesburg. There are plenty of companies that do day tours to Soweto and plenty of tourists sign up. For about 600R, an organization will pick you up and go for a half day touring Soweto, visiting all of the sites, and even visiting one of the poorer areas. There are even bike tours available now.

I’ve never completed one among these excursions because why go on a tour with vacationers when I can have my own private tour with some locals who occur to be friends? The primary vacationer attractions here are Mandela’s old house (not a historical site), Vilakazi road, the Apartheid Museum (not in Soweto however close by), and some monuments dedicated to the those who misplaced their lives in the course of the rebellion in the Apartheid era. For something not culture associated, there are the Orlando cooling towers which is residence to the Soweto bungy bounce! At 100m, it’s less than half the height of the bungy at Bloukrans so I never bothered.

The one good thing about having South Africa friends is I can roll up right into a locals hangout and not really feel completely out of place. While Vilakazi avenue has loads of bars, this is nowadays, a very touristy part of town and is a place that foreigners flock to and locals return to Soweto to show off how far they’ve are available in life (check out the great cars right here). For a more native expertise, the place you’ll likely stand out and garnish looks from the locals (not bad looks, just curious looks), head to Panyaza or Chaf-Pozi by the Orlando Towers. The booze is reasonable, and there may be always a braai taking place the place you should buy your meat on the spot.

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