With Soweto being ranked the biggest township in South Africa, what history does it carry and what makes it the most popular township and attraction in South Africa?
South Africa is populated with many townships, but should you be wondering which one is the biggest of them all, Soweto is the answer. This township is significantly popular for its rich history and the history of the country in general. Having been home to many of South Africa’s prominent historical figures and home to popular historical sites, Soweto has grown from its historical struggles of the past to become a popular tourist attraction.
The history of Soweto and how it came to be
Soweto is a township in South Africa considered to be the biggest in the entire country. It is located in the southwest of the City of Johannesburg and is home to a population of over one million South Africans to date. The township is said to have been developed in the 1930s, when the White apartheid government started to segregate Black people from the White people in society.
Black South Africans were relocated away from Johannesburg to an area that would be disconnected from the White suburbs, by what was called a cordon sanitaire at the time, which is also known as a sanitary corridor. This was usually a river, a railway track or an industrial area of a highway, amongst others. The White government was able to achieve this through the notorious ‘Urban Areas Act’ in 1923.
Soweto soon became the largest Black city in the whole of South Africa, but unfortunately until 1976, its population was only allowed to have status as temporary residents, only serving as a workforce for the city. Soweto is said to have gotten its name from William Carr, who was chair of non-European affairs and initiated the naming of Soweto in 1959. The city council then opted for the acronym SOWETO, derived from South West Townships. The name Soweto was then used for the first time in 1963.
Who are some prominent South African figures from Soweto?
Soweto is home to many prominent South African political and famous figures, which is what makes it one of the most popular townships in the country. Politicians from Soweto include the current President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa and the current Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, amongst others.
There are also some famous business people such as Basetsana Kumalo, Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Tokyo Sexwale and Mfundi Vundla who were all born and bred in Soweto. Former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela and Constitutional Court Judge, Sisi Khampepe are amongst the top officials and academics who also hail from Soweto.
Soweto is home to many actors and actresses, as well as musicians and music industry leaders, such as Benjamin Dube, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the late Sibongile Khumalo and Lebo M of the Lion King soundtrack fame. Sporting icons have also made Soweto what it is, with prominent figures such as Kaizer Motaung, chairman of the Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, and former football players such as Doctor Khumalo and Marks Maponyane all hailing from Soweto. The township boasts figures who have made significant names for themselves in the country.
What are some historical and famous tourist attractions in Soweto?
Because Soweto is so rich in political history, it boasts some historical attraction sites that represented significant political events that took place under the political systems and confines of Soweto’s history. Some sites and establishments are named after some of the political figures that fought in the political struggles and systems of the country, and the most obvious being the apartheid regime.
Political fighter, Chris Hani has the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital named after him, considered to be one of the largest hospitals on the continent. Many prominent political figures also had residences in Soweto, such as the late former president, Nelson Mandela, whose residence is situated in the now popular tourist attraction and well known Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum is also situated in Orlando, including the residences of Archbishop Desmon Tutu and the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Soweto is also home to famous football stadiums such as the Orlando Stadium, home of the Orlando Pirates Football Club.
So, being the biggest local township in the whole of South Africa, it is evident that Soweto has had, and still has, a lot going for itself. Having been one of the first hubs created for Black people only in the times of apartheid, and enduring harsh segregation and discriminations as part of its history, it has somehow managed to remain relevant in both traumatic, negative ways and positive ways through growth.