A Soweto township tour is a must-see for the visitor wanting to understand the freedom struggle.
A township tour of Soweto explains the history of how many black people gravitated to the cities, especially Johannesburg (Jozi) where they were housed in single-sex hostels attached to mines and factories. Some lived in multi-racial slums just north of Fordsburg, infamous for their poor living conditions.
Trend-setting Soweto loves to have a good time, and its suburbs abound with local eateries, shebeens (taverns) music venues and pumping nightclubs. Grab a bite to eat at a shisanyama (hot food) roadside barbeque, and if you’re up for it, try a smiley (boiled sheep’s head), a local delicacy. Follow the bling and the BEAT – marabi, kwaito, funk and blues all jostle for ear-space on the jam-packed ultra-stylish dance floors of this mega-party town. Jazz has been at the heart of Soweto since the 1960s, and performances happen all the time at local community halls, shebeens or in someone’s backyard, so pull up a chair.
Soweto is well sign-boarded from the highways leading southwest from Johannesburg, but it's recommended you take an organised tour.
Highlight in Soweto: For the adventurour, adrenalin junkies can bungee jump off Soweto’s two distinctive colourful decommissioned cooling towers, Orlando Towers.
The Apartheid Museum is nearby and should be included as part of a Soweto township tour (adjacent is Gold Reef City for entertainment purposes).
Attend a local football match, the passion with which the beautiful game is worshipped here is infectious, and if you’ve backed the winning team expect things to remain raucous until sunrise.
Soweto hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, ask your tour operator what's on. And don't miss the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial or the Nelson Mandela Museum.
Johannesburg Tourism Company
Soweto Tourism Information Centre
Tel: +27 (0) 11 342 4316
Soweto Bicycle Tours
Tel: +27 (0)11 936 3444
UK TOUR OPERATORS
Cost depends on which tour operator you choose. Most are priced moderately by modern standards. Some are downright cheap.
Soweto has a range of accommodation options from home-stays to B&Bs, guesthouses and a 4-star luxury hotel. Here are some options:
12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel
Tel: +27 (0) 11 026 5601
Soweto Hotel on Freedom Square
Tel : +27 (0) 11 527 7300
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers
Tel: +27 (0) 11 936 3444
There are a number of good restaurants, mostly on Vilikazi Street, where you should try local specialities like tripe, mogodu (wild spinach), samp and beans and ting (a Tswana starch dish).
Tel: (+27) 81 420 6051
Tel: +27 11 936 9128
Tel: +27 (0) 11 936 7423
Tel: +27 (0) 11 536 1379
Invest in any of the cheap, but well-made local arts and crafts found at the markets or on the streets.
Tours of Soweto can be done at any time of year.
Half-day and 1 day tours depending on your interests, if you stay overnight, you can explore the area in more depth over two days.
A cycle tour of Soweto with Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is a must-do activity for every visitor to Jozi. The cycle tour follows an easy route around Soweto and gives an immersive insight into this thriving township. Check out Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world which has been home to two Nobel Peace prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
But a short tour is not the best way to appreciate all it has to offer. It is so much better to take a Soweto tour that includes an overnight stay. Then you can visit the struggle sites, after which you can sample the vibrant social scene and thrumming nightlife.
Did you know?
The discovery of diamonds and gold in the late 19th century caused many South African blacks living in independent chiefdoms to head for the gold and diamond rush villages. By 1899 none lived this way and as a consequence they lost their freedom, lands and ability to support themselves independently. But it was not the health risks so much as different groups 'living on friendly terms' that concerned the authorities. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1904 gave the excuse to burn down the 'location' of Nancefield and remove the 1,358 black residents 13 kilometres from Johannesburg to Klipspruit, which would later become Pimville and eventually Soweto.
By law, no blacks were permitted to live in Johannesburg after the founding of this South Western Township (Soweto), situated in the bowl of the municipal sewage works (cynically chosen because it was the one piece of land that would be of no interest to whites). It expanded rapidly, attracting a range of people. Over the next 90 years it became the focal point of black urban culture and the struggle for freedom.
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