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’s far more history than that. Soweto’s name was derived from South West Township and was created by the government a century ago as an area to displace the Black population from the major urban areas. It is among the largest townships in the country (townships are essentially slums) and for most of its history, it has served as an area of segregation, extreme poverty, and most importantly, as a center for apartheid resistance documented by the Soweto Uprisings.
Nowadays, this place has utterly changed. I, like any foreigner, had perceptions of what this “township” could be like; dirty, old, poor, harmful etc. Oh how I used to be wrong. Yes there are still many parts of Soweto that resemble the nationwide geographic images of poverty in Africa. However, with the post Apartheid surge in the South African financial system, there is a giant and fast growing Black center class. Soweto has come a protracted ways since its fighting days.
Driving round, I noticed nice vehicles in every single place, new buildings, folks dressed in good clothing. I didn’t feel threatened at all. Also, throw within the Maponya Mall which rivals that of the nicest malls I’ve seen, and I begin to wonder to myself what’s all the fuss about when it involves Soweto? This place isn’t all bad! While culturally, it’s seen as desirable to “make it” and leave the township, folks will still come back here to show off their possessions and how they’ve made it in life, also a sign of how far the country has come economically within the last 20 years.
Nevertheless, compared to Sandton with its immense wealth, Soweto is still incredibly poor and you’ll clearly see it. There are still shanty towns in all places like the image here. I’m not sure if these areas even have electricity. To show how much Soweto has come up lately, a couple of blocks down the road from these shanty towns will be proper houses in proper neighborhoods. Nonetheless, Soweto is much closer to foreigner’s perceptions of Africa than a city like Sandton.
To further showcase that Soweto shouldn’t be the harmful, poor, dirty stereotype that its given, it is definitely one of many top tourist sights in Johannesburg. There are plenty of corporations that do day tours to Soweto and plenty of vacationers 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 many poorer areas. There are even bike tours available now.
I’ve by no means completed considered one of these excursions because why go on a tour with vacationers after I can have my own private tour with some locals who occur to be friends? The principle vacationer points of interest listed here are Mandela’s old house (not a historical site), Vilakazi avenue, the Apartheid Museum (not in Soweto but close by), and some monuments dedicated to the those who lost their lives through the uprising in the Apartheid era. For something not tradition related, there are the Orlando cooling towers which is residence to the Soweto bungy leap! At 100m, it’s less than half the height of the bungy at Bloukrans so I by no means bothered.
The one good thing about having South Africa friends is I can roll up into a locals hangout and never really feel utterly out of place. While Vilakazi avenue has loads of bars, this is nowadays, a very touristy part of town and is a spot that foreigners flock to and locals return to Soweto to show off how far they’ve are available life (check out the good cars here). For a more local 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 is always a braai happening where you should purchase your meat on the spot.
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