Soweto

Soweto may sound like an African name, but the word was originally an acronym for "South Western Townships". The cluster of townships was, from the start, a product of segregationist planning.

external image soweto_houses1.jpg

Klipspruit township (1904) was created to house mainly black laborers, who worked in mines and other industries in the city of Johannesburg. The inner city was later to be reserved for white occupation as the policy of segregation took root. In the 1950s, more black people were relocated there from "black spots" in inner city Johannesburg - black neighborhoods which the apartheid government then reserved for whites. A grand total of 49 townships sprawled and merged during the 1950's and 1960's into what is now called Soweto.

external image soweto-map-web.gif

It was not until 1963 that the acronym "Soweto" was adopted, following a four-year public competition on an appropriate name for the sprawling township. Soweto's growth was phenomenal - but unplanned. Despite government attempts to curb the influx of black workers to the cities, waves of workers moved to the city both to look for employment in the fast-growing city of gold and to leave land which had been taken away from them under the rules of apartheid.

external image squatters.jpg external image 0000175181-016.jpg

Since it came into being, Soweto was at the centre of campaigns to overthrow the apartheid state. The 1976 student uprising, also known as the Soweto Uprisings, began in Soweto and spread from there to the rest of the country. Other politically charged campaigns to have germinated in Soweto include the squatter movement of the 1940s and the defiance campaigns of the mid to late 1980s.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Bishop Desmond Tutu
Bishop Desmond Tutu


The area has also spawned many political, sporting and social luminaries, including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - two Nobel peace price laureates, who once lived in the now famous Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.

external image uprising014.jpg

The Soweto Uprising
On the 16th of June, 1976 (while the US was gearing up for the summer bicentennial celebration) the school-children of Soweto organized to march in protest. The government had recently decided that half of their education should be conducted in English and the other in Afrikaans - which most of them and their teachers as well did not speak. In addition, schools for white children were funded at more than ten times the per-pupil expenditure than black children, and black children had to pay tuition, books, and supplies! The children gathered as they marched, with up to 15,000 finally participating. Government officials responded with live ammunition.

external image sowetoriotsrs4.jpg

Hector Pieterson (1964 – 16 June 1976) became the subject of an iconic image of this uprising in South Africa when a news photograph by Sam Nzima of the dying Hector being carried by another student while his sister ran next to them, was published around the world. There are contradictory accounts of just who gave the first command to shoot but as children began singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and before they could be dispersed, the police opened fire. Some 20 children died in the ensuing pandemonium. For years, 16 June stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Today, it is known as National Youth Day — when South Africans honor young people and bring attention to their needs.
Conflicting reports number the dead from 20 to 200 over the succeeding days.


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.


external image soweto-hector-pieterson.jpg

Hector Pieterson* Memorial opened in Soweto in 2002, not far from the spot where 12 year-old Hector was shot on the 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising that today is a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government.
Hector Pieterson and those children who were killed during the Soweto uprising are remembered through a moving memorial, and many tour guides will introduce you to Soweto from this pivotal point. And there can be no better introduction either - from these sombre yet heroic beginnings, you can move on to experience the enthusiasm, hope and energy of this rapidly modernizing society.

external image Regina_mundi_church,_soweto.JPG


Regina Mundi Catholic Church
(in latin, "Queen of the World") is the largest Roman Catholic church in South Africa. It is located in Orlando East, Soweto, a populous black urban residential area within the city of Johannesburg. Due to the role it played as a place of gathering for the people of Soweto in the years before, during, and after the anti-apartheid struggle, it is often referred to as "the people's church" of "the people's cathedral". In 1997, Nelson Mandela established 30th November as "Regina Mundi Day" to honor the church.

The church is located in the middle of Soweto, in Orlando East, in the neighborhood of Moroka; it was built in 1964. While the A-shaped exterior of the building is quite ordinary in design, its main feature is the vast interior, that can accommodate as much as 5000-7000 people. The stained-glass windows are decorated with scenes of Mary's life and were donated by Poland in 1998.
One of the most prominent artifacts in the church is the painting entitled "The Madonna and Child of Soweto", mostly referred to as "The Black Madonna", depicting a black Virgin Mary holding an infant Jesus (also black). The painting was created by artist Larry Scully in 1973, as a part of a campaign to raise funds for the education of black South Africans. The painting was then bought by a benefactor and donated to the church. A highly symbolic element of the painting is a large eye right under the Black Madonna. According to journalist Mpho Lukoto of newspaper The Star, the pupil of the eye represents the township of Soweto; two forks directed towards the pupil from the sides represent the violence that was used against the people of Soweto during the apartheid era, and the cross in the center of the pupil represents the Church that illuminates the people with hope.


After the end of apartheid, a large park was built before the church, with a fountain and memorials, including a "peace pole" donated to the church by Japanese Christians. The church is still a popular place for the people of Soweto and it has also become a prominent tourist attraction in the area.