June 16, 1976 is a date that may not mean much to you at a first glance. But for the majority of South Africans, this date is stark reminder of the county’s turbulent past. The Soweto Uprising of 1976 revealed the brutal capabilities of the apartheid regime; 13 year old Hector Pieterson was the first to be killed in the mass protests against the Government’s policies when police opened fire on hundreds of protesters.
The aptly named Hector Pietersen Museum in Orlando West is located two blocks away from where his shooting took place on Vilikazi Street. The museum presents fascinating audio-visual displays of the struggles that took place for young people in the apartheid regime. The nearby Nelson Mandela National Museum is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Soweto. Made out of the former house of Mandela, the museum boasts a whole host of his personal artefacts. Local residents give comprehensive tours and have an unprecedented knowledge of all the objects on display. Another must is the Regina Mundi Church. On June 16th, 1976, this was a refuge for many fleeing protesters. However, what is so fascinating about this place is the picture of the Black Madonna and Child of Soweto. Painted by Laurence Scully, the painting was supposed to symbolise hope for the community and was visited by Nelson Mandela in 1997.
There are many different day Tours available for Soweto, at different prices. There are also bicycle tours. You can have tours where you are driven in and out of Joburg by a tour guide in a taxi-bus; and there are also tours run by residents of Soweto – which are usually the best. The people of Soweto are warm, friendly and eager to share their stories with you. There are many package cycling and walking tours that allow you to meet local residents and explore the real soul of Soweto. A guided tour is undoubtedly the best way to get the most out of your visit. Some will take you to Orlando Towers for some bungee jumping from the old Orlando Power Station. Visits to many more popular and cultural sites are also included. There are also several local restaurants for you to try out, namely Chaf Pozi which is one the site. With live entertainment, takeaways and suitable for all the family, you can’t really go far wrong.
- Take a look at our Soweto Virtual Tour, which covers: Freedom Charter Memorial, Kliptown, Hector Pieterson, Regina Mundi, Nelson Mandela, Oppenheimer Tower, Shopping and Restaurants, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Adventure activities.
- You can have a look at the position of each of the Virtual Tour views by going to our Soweto Map
- For additional background: Take a look at a newspaper clipping from the dark days of Apartheid - its almost unbelievable!
There are few places in the world like Soweto, and you should not even consider a trip to Johannesburg without stopping in to Soweto for a few hours, or a night, in this vibrant, eclectic area. Soweto is a very cosmopolitan city with 2 million residents who speak a wide range of languages, including Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Venda, and Tsonga. The City has had a difficult past, but it has now developed its own character and it has a great future ahead of it. Much of this has to do with the great character of the People of Soweto, past and present. This is the real joy of a visit to Soweto - to get to know the people in all walks of life who have helped create the New South Africa.
Soweto has a history steeped in apartheid oppression, and this once isolated municipality played a significant role in the struggle to end apartheid. The Soweto Uprising of June 1976 was the climax of this, as mass protests against the government's policy to enforce education in Afrikaans, rather than English, spiralled out of control, when police opened fire on 10 000 marching students. The youth’s apartheid protests at that time are pivotal in South African history – everyone is familiar with the famous and heartbreaking image of the dying Hector Pieterson being carried by a fellow learner, alongside his sister. Hector was only twelve years old when he died, but he will remain an icon for many years to come. Today Hector Pieterson has been immortalised in a moving memorial, and many tour guides will introduce you to Soweto from this pivotal point.
Scene 1: Hector Pieterson Memorial, Orlando - Select View 1
There are many other interesting places of interest to visit in Kliptown, such as the house of Charlotte Maxeke, a renowned medical practicioner, politician and the first African woman from South Africa to receive a baccalaureate degree. This venue will in future be used for a community exhibition and resource focusing on the needs of women and youth.
A visit to Kliptown would not be complete without a meal at the Soweto Hotel. Why not make a plan to go there on a Sunday? You may be lucky enough to hear a jazz band performance at the same time! A stay in the Hotel takes you back in time - with fabulous pictures of the area on its walls, and its famous "mealie meal" (maize meal) pillows.
Scene 2: Home of Charlotte Maxexe, Kliptown, Soweto Select View 2
Seven years after the introduction of Apartheid by the Nationalist Government in 1948, over 3 000 representatives of numerous Apartheid resistance organisations came together in what was then a dusty square in Kliptown, Soweto. This significant grouping of people was known as the Congress of the People, who met to draw up the Freedom Charter, an alternative and far seeing vision to the repressive policies of the apartheid state. The Square is now known as as Walter Sisulu Square - named after Walter Sisulu who was the leader of the Defiance Campaign against Apartheid at that time. This Square provides an amazing insight into how the resistance to Apartheid started and then developed from there. You should really visit Kliptown before visiting the Hector Peterson Museum, which tells the story about the beginning of the end of Apartheid, and the introduction of democracy in South Africa.
Freedom Charter Memorial, Walter Sisulu Square, Kliptown Go to View 3
Regina Mundi Church is well worth a visit. It was this Church that gave the students refuge when they were fleeing from police intent on arresting them. It was usually a safe place for the students, but during the heady times of 1976, police did enter the CHurch, and you can still today see bullet holes from guns fired inside the Church. Your guide will point them out to you. And Regina Mundi is also home to a fascinating piece of art, the Black Madonna -there are only 4 similar paintings in the world.
Scene 4: Inside Regina Mundi Church - Select View 4
Nelson Mandela is of course the icon - loved by all South Africans - who led South Africa through a peaceful transition to democracy. His three-bedroom home in Vilikazi Street has been transformed into what is now known as the Nelson Mandela Museum. It is an interesting fact that Vilikazi Street is the only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Nelson Mandela lived there, and so did Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is a strange coincidence that it was at the top of this street that Hector Pieterson was shot dead by the South African Police. The Vilakazi Street precinct features a variety of public art, and restaurants, and it hosts many tourists annually.Although not in Soweto, The Apartheid Museum is essential to visit if you want to gain a good understanding of life during the apartheid days.
Scene 5: Inside Nelson Mandela's House, Orlando Select View 5
Scene:6: Vilikazi Street, Kliptown Select View 6
In the heart of Soweto, in Jabavu, lies the Oppenheimer Botanical Gardens, which are home to the fascinating Credo Mutwa Cultural Village and the Oppenheimer Tower. Credo Mutwa, a prophet, sangoma and writer, created this cultural Village, which is filled with eerie statues and buildings, all with specific meanings and messages. If you're lucky, you'll be shown the painting in which, years before it even happened, Credo Mutwa seemingly predicted the 9/11 disaster. The Oppenheimer Tower was built in the Botanical Gardens, and it gives one the most amazing view of Soweto. It is only from here that you can really obtain an idea of the size of Soweto.
Scene 7: Credo Mutwa Village Select View 7
Scene 8: View of Soweto from the Oppenheimer Tower Select View 8
From these sombre yet heroic beginnings, you can move on to experience the enthusiasm, hope and energy of this rapidly modernising society. Modern Soweto consists of a diversity of housing – with ‘matchbox’ both traditional township houses and upmarket properties finding their places in the suburbs. Currently, the Soweto is looking increasingly inviting, due to all the development and greenery projects that have taken place over the past few years. Shopping Malls such as the Jabulani Mall, and the Maponya mall, have been opened in Soweto, and these are great places to shop for anything and everything.
There are a variety of African restaurants, such as Chaf Pozi, which serve delicious African cuisine and which have a variety of patrons – from the famous to the trendy; local and international tourists alike.
Scene 9: Maponya Mall Select View 9
Scene 10: Jubalani Mall Select View 10
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is the second largest hospital in the world after West China hospital of Medical Sciences,Sichuan University,having over with 3 200 beds and 6 760 staff members. It is one of the 40 Gauteng provincial hospitals, and is a teaching hospital for the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, along with the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital
Scene 11: Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital entrance Select View 11
One of the biggest (literally) recently developed tourist attractions is the Orlando Towers: known as the home of the power bungee. The brave and adventurous can head to these cooling towers, which were initially constructed for the Orlando Power Station, and are no longer in operation. Since 2008, the towers began to operate as a public bungee jumping site; in fact, one can even bungee jump and swing inside of the actual towers.
As Soweto has become a hub of activity, it is no surprise that a 42,2 km marathon takes place throughout the area. Known as the Annual Soweto Marathon, it has seen many runners partake in recent years. To add to the variety, the Soweto Wine festival is another attraction, which has only added to the variety and popularity of the township.
Soweto needs to be experienced
There is a strong sense of community in Soweto. It is hard to put everything about Soweto into words – it cannot truly describe the strength, the openness, the culture – it just needs to be experienced. Regardless of what you choose to do in Soweto - whether you go for a brief day tour, or spend an entire weekend there, one thing is guaranteed: you will leave rejuvenated, educated, and, most importantly, with a greater appreciation for the country and its inspirational people.