Soweto is a vibrant township in Johannesburg that is quickly becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Africa. Infused with the turbulent history of Apartheid and buzzing with Jozi friendliness, Soweto is contrast of culture. Shacks juxtapose mansions; littered streets offset pretty green parks; and a history of poverty reveals new trends in politics, fashion, music, dance, and language. Soweto is the ultimate township experience!
Soweto has great heritage sites, arts and culture, restaurants, shebeens, and budget accommodation. Despite many visitors having initial reservations about exploring the township, 1 in 5 international tourists visit Soweto and it is fast becoming a favourite among local Johannesburg residents for corporate events and outings.
Soweto has over 2 million residents and accounts for over a third of Johannesburg’s population, so if you really want to experience a day in the life of a typical Joburger – this is where to head. Soweto is an acronym for “South Western Townshipsâ€ and was created in 1904 to house mine labourers. In the 1950s, more black people were forcibly relocated from Sophiatown. The township experienced a phenomenal influx of migrant workers and the unplanned growth led to overcrowding, high unemployment, and poor and infrastructure. In recent years, the government has begun planting trees, developing parks, and providing electricity and running water to the township. Today Soweto offers an exciting experience that in no way lacks sophistication.
Soweto’s biggest claim to fame is Vilakazi Street - the only street in the world to have been home to 2 Nobel Prize Winners, namely Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The renovated Mandela House showcases an assortment of memorabilia, paintings, and photographs about Mandela’s story. Other interesting historical sites are the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial Site that commemorate the role of students in the apartheid struggle; Freedom Square where the Freedom Charter was proclaimed; and the Kliptown Open Air Museum which is dedicated to Walter Sisulu. Another point of interest is the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital - the world’s largest hospital.
Sport is a popular pastime in Soweto and when you aren’t touring by bicycle or joining in a game of street cricket, you can head to the iconic calabash-shaped Soccer City Stadium that was built for the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010. If you’ve never played golf in a township, tick it off your list at Soweto Golf Course. For some hair-raising fun, the Orlando Towers has the world’s first bungee jump between two cooling towers. You can also climb, swing, abseil, base jump, rap jump, and free fall off the towers.
Chaf Pozi is a shebeen and restaurant at the base of the towers where you can enjoy 4-wheel bike rides before feasting on traditionally cooked meats. Other popular shebeens and restaurants in Soweto include Wandie’s Place, Choc’s, Mandela’s Family Restaurant, and Jazz Maniacs Restaurant.
Whether you visit on a lunch outing, corporate event, day tour, or longer period to get the full experience, make sure you add a trip to Soweto to your Johannesburg itinerary.