|Soweto is a former township from the times of Apartheid. Starting
about 15 km away from the centre of Johannesburg, it comprises some
63 sq. km, where an estimated thee million people live.
Originally there were only temporary living quarters for the
mine workers, before Soweto was declared a ghetto for the black
population of Johannesburg by the infamous "Urban Areas Act"
Soweto is a city of contrasts: luxurious mansions across the
road from tin shanties, green fields and streams around the corner
from piles of garbage, the biggest public hospital in the world
with the world's highest HIV infection rate, and a friendliness
and cheerfulness that disguises a high unemployment rate.
Although the government had a housing program to build hundreds
of thousands of plain two-room houses here, the illegal squatter
camps kept on growing and spreading. Still Soweto is by no means
only an accumulation of tin shacks. There are also better suburbs
and a large number of social institutions like schools and hospitals.
There are three main kinds of transport in the township: minibus
taxis, buses and trains. Most people take taxis because they are
fast and cheap and stop anywhere, although regard them as dangerous.
Places to visit includes:
African Institute of Art & Funda Community Centre:
It was formed in 1984 as a response to a need for an alternative
art education programme that could enable ordinary people to access
education in the visual arts.
In Avalon Cemetery in Soweto there are thousands of cots demarcating
graves. The custom comes from Mpumalanga where traditionally,
rocky soil meant that graves could not be dug very deep, and rocks
were placed over them to prevent animals from digging up the bodies.
To reinforce this effort, metal rectangular cots were positioned
over the graves.
EKhaya Soweto Neighbourhood Museum:
Local arts and crafts on display, many made from recycled materials;
the exhibits change as the centre undergoes continuous renewal.
Hector Petersen Square:
Named after one the first students to be killed in 1976 rebellion,
a moment movingly captured by the camera. There is a monument
to Petersen and his fellow friends in the square.
Nelson Mandela's House:
The modest bungalow where Mandela and his wife Winnie lived in
the 1950s and early 1960s, before he went to prison and she into
exile in the Free State. In 1990 with the return of Mandela he
find it to small and Winnie later transformed it into a museum.
It's in Vilakazi Street, where Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu also
had a home.
Regina Mundi Church:
Soweto's largest Roman Catholic place of worship; more notable
perhaps for its place in history (it served as a gathering place
during the years of struggle) than its architecture. It also houses
an art gallery.
It is the place where the Freedom Charter was adopted as the guiding
document of a broad alliance of various political and cultural
formations to map a way forward in the repressive climate of the
The charter was the guiding document of the African National
Congress and envisaged an alternative non-racial dispensation
in which "all shall be equal before the law."