Soweto, incorporated in the city of Johannesburg, is South Africa’s largest township. (South Western Township). It’s a half hour away from the Johannesburg city center, is right on our doorstep, and apart from being a crucial part of South Africa’s history (Soweto Uprising, 1976) it is an extraordinary, fast growing and vibrant African city.
Once an Apartheid township, Soweto is now a thriving community, with first world commerce and tourism, a growing middle class and some super wealthy suburbs. There are a number of backpackers and home stay guesthouses, and the Soweto Hotel on Freedom Square in Kliptown, is a luxury hotel.
The most traditional way of visiting Soweto is on a tour bus, either private or scheduled basis. We love working with Peter Mashaba from Mashaba Tours, who is not only fabulous, but incredibly personal and well priced too. Tours are done in small minibuses and are private and exclusive, allowing for total flexibility.
Any tour of Soweto will include the standard highlights – the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial, Vilikazi Street (home to two Nobel peace prize winners, President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu), Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Walther Sisulu Square of Dedication, Regina Mundi Church, Mandela House and the Orlando Cooling Towers. But there is so much more to see, than ‘standard’ and we think it is important to not just see Soweto as a tourist attraction.
Soweto is a lot more than a click of a camera. It’s an amazing part of Johannesburg, and where possible one should include walking, chatting and mingling with the local people. A coffee or a meal in one of the restaurants gives great insight into the daily life of local people. Sakhumzi, Restaurant Vilikazi, Wandies and Nambitha are all wonderful, but try going off the beaten tourist track too. Chaf Pozi near the water towers is fabulous, and La Cadi is an exciting restaurant, bar and nightclub.
One doesn’t really put Soweto together with wine, craft beer and fashion, but one is wrong! The Soweto Wine Festival has just celebrated ten years of wine in Soweto, and wine makers traveled from all around the country to showcase their wines. The Who’s Who of South Africa were out in full force, magnificently dressed of course, and the souvenir wine glasses that everyone went home with were indeed very stylish!
Soweto has it’s own Soweto Fashion Week, founded in 2011 by Stephen Manzini. It is open to all African designers, but specially taps in to Soweto local talent and aims to grow the South African fashion industry. If you’re an up and coming model, the next fashion week could be for you! Watch this space for dates.
The Soweto Art and Craft Fair is just over a year old, and getting more inspiring and creative with age. Artists and crafters are given a platform to showcase their goods, and there is live music, sometimes poetry and always delicious food. This fair works in conjunction with The Soweto Theatre, because that’s another thing! Great theatre, great food, great beer and a great atmosphere. Right now, the Soweto Theatre is auditioning for dancers and performers for Cirque du Soleil.
Overnights in Soweto are really popular amongst European travelers, especially the more adventurous and the backpacking crowd. One does not have to be adventurous though. Staying in Soweto is like staying in any new big city. Be streetwise, be smart, be aware and you’ll be fine. Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers in Orlando West is really cool, The Lady Guest House in Pimville is lovely, and the up market Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre in Kliptown is great.
The Soweto Nike Marathon takes place this year on the 22nd November. Entries are closed I’m afraid, but there’s always next year. You can follow @NikeRunningSA for minute-by-minute updates. Or you can follow us; some of our Johannesburg Guesthouse owners are running too!
We’ll be sending you more information soon as in a few weeks a whole lot of us are going off with Peter Mashaba for a tailor made exciting tour of Soweto. We promise not to keep any secrets!