The establishment of Soweto is, like Johannesburg, linked directly to the discovery of Gold in 1885. Thousands of people from around the world and South Africa flocked to the new town to seek their fortunes or to offer their labour. More than half the population was black, most living in multi racial shanty towns near the gold mines in the centre of the town. As the gold mining industry developed, so did the need for labour increase. Migrant labour was started and most of these workers lived in mine compounds. However other workers had to find their own accommodation - often in appalling conditions.
The first residents of what is now known as Soweto were moved into the area called Klipspriut in 1905 following their relocation from “Coolietownâ€ as a result of an outbreak of bubonic plague. The Johannesburg City Council took the opportunity to establish racially segregated residential areas. Some residents were to be relocated to Alexandra township (near the present day Sandton). This group comprised black, Indian, and coloured families and they received freehold title to their land (this was subsequently reversed by the Apartheid Government). Only black families were located into Klipspruit and the housing was on a rental basis. Klipspruit was subsequently renamed Pimville.
During the 1930’s the demand for housing for the large numbers of black people who had moved into Johannesburg grew to such an extent that new housing was built in an area known as Orlando, named after the first administrator Edwin Orlando Leaky.
In the 1940s a controversial character James Mpanza led the first land invasion and some 20000 squatters occupied land near Orlando. James Mpanza is known as the “Father of Sowetoâ€.
In 1959 the residents of Sophiatown were forcefully removed to Soweto and occupied the area known as Meadowlands. Sir Earnest Oppenheimer, the first chairman of the Anglo American Corporation, was appalled by the housing shortage and was instrumental in arranging a loan for the construction of additional housing and this is commemorated by the Oppenheimer Tower in Jabulani.
Current status of Soweto
Soweto falls within the municipality of the Johannesburg Metro Council in the province of Gauteng. The original rental houses have now been sold to the tenants who received a subsidy from the government to cover the cost of the houses. Private sector housing was developed from the 1980’s funded by the various banks. Freehold title is available to the properties. Services are provided by the Johannesburg Metro council and electricity by Escom.
Origins of the name
Soweto obtained its name from the first two letters of South Western Township which was the original description of the area.
What to do
- Township tours Today, township tours of Soweto are very popular, where visitors can explore, meet the residents, have meals in their houses, have a drink at a shebeen, and visit a sangoma (witchdoctor).
- Orlando Towers Don't miss out on visiting Orlando Towers where you can bungee jump, rap jump, and more!
- Soweto Theatre