RDP Housing in Soweto
Johannesburg, including Soweto, from the International Space Station
|Metropolitan municipality||City of Johannesburg|
|- Total||150 km2 (57.9 sq mi)|
|- Density||8,666.7/km2 (22,446.6/sq mi)|
|Time zone||South Africa Standard Time (UTC+2)|
|Apartheid in South Africa
|Events and Projects|
P. W. Botha · Oupa Gqozo · D. F. Malan
Soweto is an urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, bordering the city's mining belt in the north. Its name, being an English syllabic abbreviation for South Western Townships, refer to its origins as a Black township under South Africa's Apartheid government. The population has historically been overwhelmingly Black and some of the watershed events in the struggle against Apartheid occurred in the township.
Formerly a separate municipality, it is now incorporated in the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality.
The history of African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of Africans by city and state authorities. Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that sprang up after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg, such as Brickfields (Newtown). In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an "evacuation camp" at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague. Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935.
Industrialisation during World War II drew thousands of black workers to the Reef. They were also propelled by legislation that rendered many rural Black Africans landless. Informal settlements developed to meet the growing lack of housing. The Sofasonke movement of James Mpanza in 1944 organised the occupation of vacant land in the area, at what became known as Masakeng (Orlando West). Partly as a result of Mpanza's actions, the city council was forced to set up emergency camps in Orlando and Moroka, and later in Central Western Jabavu.
Soweto's only hospital was built during World War II. The Royal Imperial Hospital, Baragwanath, was built in today's Diepkloof in 1941 for convalescing British and Commonwealth soldiers. John Albert Baragwanath owned a hostel, The Wayside Inn, from the late 19th century near the hospital's current location.. Field Marshall Jan Smuts noted during the opening ceremonies that the facility would be used for the area's black population after the war. In 1947 King George VI visited and presented medals to the troops there. From this start grew Baragwanath Hospital (as it became known after 1948), reputedly the world's largest hospital. In 1997 another name change followed, with the sprawling facility now known as Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in honour of the South African Communist Party leader who was assassinated in 1993 by white extremists.
After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained power in 1948 and began to implement apartheid, the pace of forced removals and the creation of townships outside legally-designated white areas increased. The Johannesburg council established new townships to the southwest for black Africans evicted from the city's freehold areas of Martindale, Sophiatown, and Alexandra. Some townships were basic site and service plots (Tladi, Zondi, Dhlamini, Chiawelo, Senaoane, 1954), while at Dube middle class residents built their own houses. The first hostel to accommodate migrant workers evicted from the inner city in 1955 was built at Dube. The following year houses were built in the newly proclaimed townships of Meadowlands and Diepkloof.
In 1956 townships were laid out for particular ethnic groups as part of the state's strategy to sift black Africans into groupings that would later form the building blocks of the so-called "independent homelands." Spurred by a donation of R6-million to the state by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1956 for housing in the area, Naledi, Mapetla, Tladi, Moletsane and Phiri were created to house Sotho and Tswana-speakers. Zulu and Xhosa speakers were accommodated in Dhlamini, Senaoane, Zola, Zondi, Jabulani, Emdeni and White City. Chiawelo was established for Tsonga and Venda-speaking residents.
In 1963, the name Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) was officially adopted for the sprawling township that now occupied what had been the farms of Doornkop, Klipriviersoog, Diepkloof, Klipspruit and Vogelstruisfontein.
Soweto came to the world's attention on June 16, 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School to Orlando Stadium, The rioting continued and 23 people, including two white people, died on the first day in Soweto. Among them was Dr Melville Edelstein, who had devoted his life to social welfare among blacks. He was stoned to death by the mob and left with a sign around his neck proclaiming 'Beware Afrikaaners'. The impact of the Soweto protests reverberated through the country and across the world. In their aftermath, economic and cultural sanctions were introduced from abroad. Political activists left the country to train for guerrilla resistance. Soweto and other townships became the stage for violent state repression. Since 1991 this date and the schoolchildren have been commemorated by the International Day of the African Child.
In response, the apartheid state started providing electricity to more Soweto homes, yet phased out financial support for building additional housing.
Soweto became an independent municipality with elected black councilors in 1983, in line with the Black Local Authorities Act. Previously the townships were governed by the Johannesburg council, but from the 1970s the state took control.
Soweto's black African councilors were not provided by the apartheid state with the finances to address housing and infrastructural problems. Township residents opposed the black councilors as puppet collaborators who personally benefited financially from an oppressive regime. Resistance was spurred by the exclusion of blacks from the newly formed tricameral Parliament (which did include Whites, Asians and Coloreds). Municipal elections in black, coloured, and Indian areas were subsequently widely boycotted, returning extremely low voting figures for years. Popular resistance to state structures dates back to the Advisory Boards (1950) that co-opted black residents to advise whites who managed the townships.
In Soweto popular resistance to apartheid emerged in various forms during the 1980s. Educational and economic boycotts were initiated, and student bodies were organized. Street committees were formed, and civic organizations were established as alternatives to state-imposed structures. One of the most well-known "civics" was Soweto's Committee of Ten, started in 1978 in the offices of The Bantu World newspaper. Such actions were strengthened by the call issued by African National Congress's 1985 Kabwe congress in Zambia to make South Africa ungovernable. As the state forbade public gatherings, church buildings like Regina Mundi were sometimes used for political gatherings.
In 1995 Soweto became part of the Southern Metropolitan Transitional Local Council, and in 2002 was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg. A series of bomb explosions rocked Soweto in October 2002. The explosions, believed to be the work of the Boeremag, a right wing extremist group, damaged buildings and railway lines, and killed one person.
As Soweto was counted as part of Johannesburg in South Africa's 2001 census, recent demographic statistics are not readily available. It has been estimated that 65% of Johannesburg's residents live in Soweto. However, the 2001 Census put its population at 896,995 - or about one-third of the city's total population.
Soweto's population is predominantly black. All eleven of the country's official languages are spoken, and the main linguistic groups (in descending order of size) are Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Venda, and Tsonga.
Soweto landmarks include:
The suburb was not historically allowed to create employment centres within the area, so almost all of its residents are commuters to other parts of the city.
The N1 Western Bypass skirts the eastern boundary of Soweto. There is efficient road access for many parts of the region along busy highways to the CBD and Roodepoort, but commuters are largely reliant on trains and taxis.
The N12 forms the southern border of Soweto.
PUTCO has for many years provided bus commuter services to Soweto residents.
The area is mostly composed of old "matchbox" houses, or four-room houses built by the government, that were built to provide cheap accommodation for black workers during apartheid.
Soweto is an English abbreviation, standing for "South Western Townships". Street after street in this area is lined with matchboxes; however, there are a few smaller areas where prosperous Sowetans have built houses that are more similar in stature with those in more affluent suburbs. Many people who still live in matchbox houses have improved and expanded their homes, and the City Council has enabled the planting of more trees and the improving of parks and green spaces in the area.
Soweto is credited as one of the founding places for kwaito, which is a style of hip-hop specific to South Africa. This form of music, which combined many elements of house music, American hip-hop, and traditional African music, became a strong force amongst black South Africans. The spread of Soweto in popular culture worked both ways, as American hip-hop artists Hieroglyphics rap about the terrible conditions and changing social order in their song "Soweto," saying that cowardice has ruled this area, but how now the "gems," or black youth, need to express themselves. This appears to be Hieroglyphics attempt to urge a critical, political version of hip-hop in South Africa.
By 2003 the Greater Soweto area consisted of 87 townships grouped together into Administrative Regions 6 and 10 of Johannesburg.
Estimates of how many residential areas make up Soweto itself vary widely. Some say that Soweto comprises 29 townships , others find 32. Still others talk of 34 or even 50 "suburbs." The differences may be due to confusion arising from the merger of adjoining townships (such as Lenasia and Eldorado Park) with those of Soweto into Regions 6 and 10. But the total number also depends on whether the various "extensions" and "zones" are counted separately, or as part of one main suburb. The 2003 Regional Spatial Development Framework arrived at 87 names by counting various extensions (e.g. Chiawelo's 5) and zones (e.g. Pimville's 7) separately. The City of Johannesburg's website groups the zones and extensions together to arrive at 32, but omits Noordgesig and Mmesi Park.
The list below provides the dates when some of Soweto's townships were established, along with the probable origins or meanings of their names, where available:
|Chiawelo||1956||"Place of Rest" (Venda)|
|Dhlamini||1956||Unknown, Nguni family name. Michael Mabaso also comes from here.|
|Dobsonville||including Dobsonville Gardens|
|Doornkop||"Hill of Thorns" (Afrikaans)|
|Dube||1948||Named for John Langalibalele Dube (1871-1946), educator, newspaper founder, and the first ANC president (1912-17)|
|Emdeni||1958||"At the family" (Zulu, from umndeni - family), including extensions|
|Jabavu||1948||Named for Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu (1885-1959), educator and author|
|Klipspruit||1904||"Rocky Stream" (Afrikaans), originally a farm.|
|Mapetla||1956||Someone who's angry|
|Mmesi Park||Sotho name for somebody who burns things on fire|
|Mofolo||1954||Named for Thomas Mofolo (1876-1948), Sotho author, translator, and educator|
|Molapo||1956||Name of a Basotho tribe, sotho name for fetique|
|Moletsane||1956||Name of a Batuang chief|
|Moroka||1946||Named for Dr James Sebe Moroka (1891-1985), later ANC president (1949-52) during the 1952 Defiance Campaign|
|Naledi||1956||"Star" (Sotho/Pedi/Tswana), originally Mkizi|
|Noordgesig||"North View" (Afrikaans)|
|Orlando||1932||Named for Edwin Orlando Leake (1860-1935), chairman of the Non-European Affairs Department (1930-31), Johannesburg mayor (1925-26)|
|Pimville||1934||Named for James Howard Pim, councillor (1903-07), Quaker, philanthropist, and patron of Fort Hare Native College; originally part of Klipspruit|
|Power Park||In the vicinity of the power station|
|Protea Glen||Unknown (The protea is South Africa's national flower)|
|Senaoane||1958||Named for Solomon G Senaoane (-1942), first sports organiser in the Non-European Affairs Department|
|Zondi||1956||Unknown family name(Zulu)|
Other Soweto townships include Braamfischerville, Killarney, Mzimhlope, Phefeni, Phomolong, Snake Park, and White City
Many parts of Soweto rank among the poorest in Johannesburg, although individual townships tend to have a mix of wealthier and poorer residents. In general, households in the outlying areas to the northwest and southeast have lower incomes, while those in southwestern areas tend to have higher incomes.
The economic development of Soweto was severely curtailed by the apartheid state, which provided very limited infrastructure and prevented residents from creating their own businesses. Roads remained unpaved, and many residents had to share one tap between four houses, for example. Soweto was meant to exist only as a dormitory town for black Africans who worked in white houses, factories, and industries. The 1957 Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act and its predecessors restricted residents between 1923 to 1976 to seven self-employment categories in Soweto itself. Sowetans could operate general shops, butcheries, eating houses, sell milk or vegetables, or hawk goods. The overall number of such enterprises at any time were strictly controlled. As a result, informal trading developed outside the legally-recognized activities.
By 1976 Soweto had only two cinemas and two hotels, and only 83% of houses had electricity. And up to 93% of residents had no running water. Using fire for cooking and heating, resulting in respiratory problems that contributed to high infant mortality rates (54 per 1,000 compared to 18 for whites, 1976 figures.
The restrictions on economic activities were lifted in 1977, spurring the growth of the taxi industry as an alternative to Soweto's inadequate bus and train transport systems.
In 1994 Sowetans earned on average almost six and a half times less than their counterparts in wealthier areas of Johannesburg (1994 estimates). Sowetans contribute less than 2% to Johannesburg's rates). Some Sowetans remain impoverished, and others live in shanty towns with little or no services. About 85% of Kliptown comprises informal housing. The Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee argues that Soweto's poor are unable to pay for electricity. The committee believes that the South African government's privatization drives will worsen the situation. Research showed that 62% of residents in Orlando East and Pimville were unemployed or pensioners.
There have been signs recently indicating economic improvement. The Johannesburg city council began to provide more street lights and to pave roads. Private initiatives to tap Sowetans' combined spending power of R4.3 billion were also planned, including the construction of Protea Mall, Jabulani Mall, the development of Maponya Mall, an upmarket hotel in Kliptown, and the Orlando Ekhaya entertainment centre. Soweto has also become a center for nightlife and culture.
Songs alluding to Soweto
Late singer/songwriter Joe Strummer, formerly of the band The Clash, referenced Soweto in his solo album, Streetcore (song: "Arms Aloft"), as well as in The Clash track, "Where You Gonna Go (Soweto)", found on the album London Calling (Legacy Edition).
Soweto is mentioned in the anti-apartheid song Gimme Hope Jo'anna by Eddy Grant. The line "While every mother in a black Soweto fears the killing of another son" refers to police brutality during apartheid.
Dr. Alban's song "Free Up Soweto" was included in the 1994 album Look Who's Talking.
Mexican group Tijuana No! recorded the song "Soweto" for their first album "No". In reference to the city and the movements.
It is also the name of a song by the rap group Hieroglyphics.
The marches by students in Soweto are briefly mentioned in a novel by Linzi Glass named Ruby Red, which had been nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2008. Soweto is also mentioned in the novel, Waiting for the Rain by Sheila Gordon.
Soweto was characterized in the American film Stander. The film presented the story of Andre Stander, a rogue police captain who sympathized with the irrational state of apartheid and its corruption by becoming a bank thief. The Soweto uprising riots provided Stander's breaking point in the film.
In 2006, Sara Blecher and Rimi Raphoto made the popular documentary "Surfing Soweto", about young kids "surfing" in the roof of Soweto trains, and the social problem this represents.
The 2009 film District 9 was shot in Soweto, specifically Chiawelo. The plot involves a species of aliens who arrive on Earth in a starving and helpless condition, seeking aid. The originally benign attempts to aid them turn increasingly oppressive due to the overwhelming numbers of aliens and the cost of maintaining them, and to increasing xenophobia on the part of humans who treat the intelligent and sophisticated aliens like animals while taking advantage of them for personal and corporate gain. The aliens are housed in shacks in a slum-like concentration camp called "District 9", which is in fact modern-day Soweto; an attempt to evacuate the aliens to another camp leads to violence and a wholesale slaughter by South African mercenary security forces (a reference to historical events in "District 6", a black neighborhood subjected to forced segregation during the apartheid years). The parallels to apartheid South Africa are obvious but not explicitly remarked on in the film.
Tsotsi (2005) is placed and set in Soweto.
Soweto was the birthplace of:
Well-known artists from Soweto, besides those mentioned above, include:
Films that include Soweto scenes:
|Senator for Illinois, Barack Obama, at the Hector Pieterson Museum in August 2006|
|King George VI presenting medals to the troops at Royal Imperial Hospital|
|Guardian Unlimited audio recording of Antoinette Sithole on the Soweto uprising|
|Soweto Uprising (2007) at the Internet Archive|
|BBC video of the Soweto uprisings|
Soweto is the only place in the world to have raised two Nobel Prize winners. Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both have residences on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.
The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital  is the largest hospital in the world with over 3000 beds.
The name Soweto was first used in 1963 to describe the groups of townships to the south west of Johannesburg, and it is an acronym for South Western Townships. These townships were originally established after an outbreak of bubonic plague in the inner city slums of Johannesburg in 1904, but under the apartheid government, many black South Africans were forcefully relocated from the city and its suburbs to Soweto and other townships.
It is best to visit Soweto as part of an official tour group by a SATSA  accredited tour guide.
Several of tour operators are available:
By and large Soweto is a pretty safe place for tourists to visit. It is not the easiest place to drive around in by yourself so if you are going to stay there overnight get the bed and breakfast owner to meet you on one of the main roads and follow them in or get a transfer in. If you are going to do a tour, go with one of the registered tour companies (see above or contact SATSA ). Try to make sure that the tour company is using a local Soweto/Johannesburg guide as makes for better insight to the place and its history.
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