Soweto is close to Johannesburg and, in addition to being well known, has played a crucial role in the struggle against apartheid and in the recent history of South Africa.
Today at Soweto live between 2 million and 4 million inhabitants, difficult to have a precise number because the borders of Greater Soweto are as indefinite as there can be and consequently also the count of its inhabitants.
Soweto is not a single homogeneous reality and it is not just a township: in Soweto there are several neighborhoods,each with different characteristics and history: there are residential areas inhabited by the middle class but also many slums with tin houses where a lot of poor people live; the South-Western area of Soweto is on average the richest, here there are also luxurious villas inhabited by some pop stars or actors.
Some curiosities about Soweto that many do not know:
• what the name of Soweto means
• what does township mean in the Anglo-Saxon world and in South Africa
• how Soweto was born and why right near Johannesburg
• what role did Soweto play in the fight against apartheid
• what role Soweto has played and has in South Africa's culture and arts
• what is the relationship between Soweto and sport
What does the name Soweto mean
Soweto is a very large suburb area of Johannesburg and is divided into several neighborhoods, but where does the term Soweto come from and what does it mean?
Soweto simply identifies the position of the territory it occupies with respect to the position of the city of Johannesburg, in fact it is the acronym for South West Township, or SO.WE.TO. or South-Western township.
What does the word township mean in the Anglo-Saxon world
The English term township identifies some urban or suburban agglomerations present in Anglo-Saxon-speaking countries, in reality there is no single translation and it is impossible to find a unique description for all the realities that are defined townships in the world, since in every place this term has taken on a different meaning.
What does the word township mean in South Africa
In South Africa, but also in Zimbabwe and Namibia, the term township identifies the suburban agglomerations that in the past, especially during the apartheid period, were created by the government to segregate non-whites, therefore mainly blacks, but also Indians and the Asians.
Today townships are often called by their inhabitants irregular settlements or unofficial settlements and they identify in particular those territories where there are sheet metal structures and without public services; those who live in these places do not particularly like the term township because it reminds them of a sad past of segregation, so they prefer other definitions.
The poorest part of the population lives in the irregular settlements and, waiting for help from the government, who has promised everyone a public housing, find themselves living in a situation of hardship and at the limit of tolerability; most of those living here are black, both South African and immigrants from neighboring countries.
But those suburban areas like Soweto, that in the past were occupied by the townships created by the apartheid regime, today are much more complex than one might think, there are no longer just sheet metal or wooden houses, but there are several houses in masonry, even very beautiful in some cases; in practice they have transformed, or are transforming themselves, into real cities.
How Soweto was born and why close to Johannesburg
Soweto has a long history: it was born when gold was found in Johannesburg at the beginning of the twentieth century, at that time many people came to this area to work in the mining industry.
Subsequently Soweto became one of the places where many non-white people gathered, especially following the tightening of racial segregation, apartheid laws and forced mackerel; in this period the dimensions of Soweto increased dramatically and the first wooden and sheet metal shacks appeared.
From this moment until the end of the apartheid regime, the history of Soweto was not very different from that of the other townships that gradually arose in the country.
What was Soweto's role in the fight against apartheid
Soweto and its inhabitants have actively fought on the front lines against apartheid; here lived Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, two prominent figures in the recent history of South Africa and two key figures in the struggle against the apartheid regime.
In particular, the Soweto Clashes in 1976 were very important as they led to several episodes of rebellion against oppression throughout South Africa and were the first step on the long path towards democracy, moreover they had a worldwide echo and in this way South Africa ended up under the magnifying glass of public opinion and blame, condemnations and boycotts rained down from all sides.
It can be said that Soweto led the struggle against apartheid and wrote part of the history of the twentieth century.
Soweto's role in South Africa's culture and arts
At Soweto there are many interesting places from a cultural point of view, moreover Soweto gave birth to the artistic career of several artists:
• museums and culture in Soweto
• Soweto's music and musical artists
At Soweto in recent decades, several very interesting museums have been created that tell the recent history of the country; it is good that this story is not forgotten or exploited.
In the Orlando West neighborhood, in Vilakazi Street, is the house where Mandela lived that has been transformed into a museum; here, in addition to discovering some aspects of Nelson Mandela's most private life, you can see how middle-class people lived before and during the apartheid period.
Also at Vilakazi Street is the house where Desmond Tutu lived, but the latter is not open to the public.
Not far away is the Hector Pieterson Museum that allows visitors to immerse themselves in the harsh reality of apartheid and the Soweto Clashes.
The Mandela House and the Hector Pieterson Museum are a must during a visit to Soweto.
Soweto is considered by many to be the place where Kwaito, a sort of hip-hop typical of South Africa, was born in the 90s; this musical genre incorporates several elements of house music, American hip-pop and traditional African music and has become very common among black South Africans.
Several artists and musical groups were also born in Soweto such as the Soweto Gospel Choir, the Soweto String Quartet and the Soweto Melodic Voices.
The relationship between Soweto and sport
One of the most followed and loved sports in Soweto is soccer, the sport of choice for the black population.
In Soweto there are three football teams who play in the South African Football League: the Kaizer Chiefs, the Orlando Pirates and the Mokora Swallows.
The Kaizer Chiefs are known by the nickname Amakhosi that means the chiefs in the Zulu language and are one of the South African football teams that has the most fans.
The Kaizer Chiefs club was founded in 1970 by Kaizer “Chincha Guluva” Motaung, when he returned to South Africa after playing football for the Atlanta Chiefs in the United States; today the club is based in Naturena and plays in the FNB Stadiumthat is located in Soweto.
The Orlando Pirates are known by the nickname Happy People and are one of the oldest teams in Soweto, they were in fact founded in 1937 in Orlando West with the name of Orlando Boys Club.
Today the Orlando Pirates are based in the suburb of Houghton, that is not located in Soweto, while playing at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
There is a strong rivalry between the Orlando Pirates and the Kaizer Chiefs and when the derby is played at the stadium it is sold out.
The Moroka Swallows were founded in 1947; today they have their headquarters in Masakend and play at the Volkswagen Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto.
The Moroka Swallows are known by the nickname the Birds, while Moroka means rainman in Setswana; their main rivals are the Kaizer Chiefs.
The Soweto Tennis Open is also played every year at Soweto, a tournament that is part of the ATP Challenger Tour.
Finally, again every year, the Soweto Marathon is run along the streets of Soweto.