Soweto, near Johannesburg in South Africa, is a suburban agglomeration that has a vast extension and within it there are many neighborhoods, some of which have a well-defined identity, while others are decidedly more anonymous and difficult to identify.
A premise is necessary: Soweto is a heterogeneous reality, it is wrong to consider it as a single reality or to think that it is only a township; in Soweto, richer neighborhoods and deprived areas coexist, people who have started a business activity and people who are unemployed and have no prospects for the future.
It is difficult to know precisely how many inhabitants live in the area known as Greater Soweto, just as it is difficult to say precisely how many neighborhoods and townships, or irregular settlements, there are; the reason for all this lies in the fact that the boundaries of Soweto are not well delineated and lend themselves to being interpreted, furthermore the various areas change their name and extend or reduce continuously, so it is very difficult to have an updated situation.
The area now known as Greater Soweto saw its population grow enormously in the years following 1954, when the Natives Resettlement Act was enacted under which all non-white or native citizens were forced to leave the urban areas, that were declared exclusive territories for whites.
All these people, mostly blacks, were relocated to the Soweto area that was divided into different zones based on the tribes of its new inhabitants; these areas gave rise to most of today's Soweto neighborhoods.
The main neighborhoods or suburbs of Soweto, listed in chronological order of settlement, are:
- Klipspruit (1891)
- Orlando (1931)
- Pimville (1934)
- Moroka (1946)
- Dube (1948)
- Jabavu (1948)
- Mofolo (1954)
- Chiawelo (1956)
- Dhlamini (1956)
- Jabulani (1956)
- Mapetla (1956)
- Molapo (1956)
- Moletsane (1956)
- Naledi (1956)
- Phiri (1956)
- Tladi (1956)
- Zola (1956)
- Zondi (1956)
- Diepkloof (1957)
- Meadowlands (1958)
- Emdeni (1958)
- Senaoane (1958)
The Klipspruit neighborhood or Kliptown in Soweto
Klipspruit is the oldest settlement in Soweto and became an inhabited area in 1891, on the territory that was part of a large farm.
Since 1903, Klipspruit has welcomed gold mining workers who previously lived within the city limits of Johannesburg, but who were turned away following a plague epidemic and were confined outside the urban border.
From this moment on, the first irregular or illegal settlements arose here in Klipspruit.
In June 1955, Klipspruit hosted an unprecedented event: the Congress of the People.
This meeting was organized by the African National Party, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrts and the Colored People's Congress; people came from all over to witness this event despite the police trying to stop them from passing.
During this meeting, the Freedom Chart was discussed and drafted defining the goals and aspirations of all those who opposed apartheid; the participants succeeded in their intent to draft this important document despite the police, during the second day of the congress, raided and arrested many activists.
This very important event in the recent history of the country is remembered in a small museum, the Kliptown Open Air Museum, located on the new Walter Sisulu Square; a place to go during your visit to Soweto.
Walter Sisulu Square is a huge square built of stone, concrete and brick that commemorates the Freedom Chart and its editing.
At the center of the square there is an immense conical structure inside which the principles of the Freedom Chart have been engraved, while on the rest of the square there are 10 enormous pillars representing the 10 fundamental points of the Freedom Chart; on the square there are also a series of works of art that symbolize the history of Klipspruit.
Walter Sisulu Square is one of the few areas, perhaps the only one, in Klipspruit that may be of interest to visitors.
For the rest, Klipspruit is still a poor neighborhood, even if a major renovation project has recently been undertaken that, in addition to the construction of Walter Sisulu Square, includes the construction of many houses.
The name Klipspruit is made up of two Afrikaans words literally meaning rocky spring (spruit) (klip); while the name Kliptown is composed of the Afrikaans word klip meaning rock or rocky and the English word town meaning city.
The Orlando neighborhood in Soweto
The Orlando neighborhood is perhaps one of the best known suburbs of Soweto, not only in South Africa, but also in the rest of the world.
Orlando was founded in 1931 and was named in honor of Edwin Orlando Leake, who was mayor of Johannesburg from 1925 to 1926; Orlando is divided into two macro areas: Orlando West and Orlando East.
The history of this district of Soweto, more than many others, is closely linked to the events of the recent history of South Africa and the struggle against apartheid; it was in fact in Orlando that there were the student demonstrations of 1976, later known as the Soweto Clashes, and also in Orlando there is the Regina Mundi church.
Orlando is the most interesting and most visited neighborhood in Soweto.
In Orlando West, in Vilakazi Street, is the house where Nelson Mandela lived before being imprisoned, today it is a museum, the Mandela House Museum; also in Orlando West is the Museum dedicated to the Soweto Clashes, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum.
In Orlando East is instead the Regina Mundi church that hosted the clandestine meetings of the opponents of apartheid, witnessed the violence of the police and was the site of some sessions of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation; near Orlando East there are also the Orlando Towers, that have become one of the symbols of Soweto.
Orlando is also home to Orlando Stadium, the home to the Orlando Pirates, a football team who plays in the South African Premier Division.
The Pimville neighborhood in Soweto
The Pimville neighborhood was originally part of the Klipspruit territory; it was an area inhabited by whites before many black workers were relocated here, from 1904 onwards.
From 1934 Pimville separated from Klipspruit.
But in the following years, from the 1950s onwards, the neighborhood was declared a "white zone" and the inhabitants of Pimville tried in every way to make it annexed to the urban area of Johannesburg.
After several years the white inhabitants succeeded in their aim, obtaining to have the railway pass between Pimville and the rest of Soweto, in order to divide it from the neighborhoods inhabited by blacks.
Pimville was named after James Howard Pim, adviser and advocate philanthropist at Fort Hare Native College.
The Noordgesig neighborhood in Soweto
The neighborhood of Noordgesig is located on the Northern border of Soweto and this is also understood by its name that means view to the North in Afrikaans; this is the first neighborhood you come across upon entering Soweto from New Canada Road and is mostly inhabited by black people.
Noordgesig is called Bulte both by its inhabitants and by those who live nearby; Bulte means hills and the reason for this nickname comes from the fact that this neighborhood is surrounded by man-made hills that were built with waste materials from mines.
The neighborhood of Noordgesig is the first township inhabited by coloured people in the area that is called Greater Soweto but, unlike other neighborhoods in Soweto inhabited mainly by blacks, not much is known about its origins and development; the history of Soweto, as it is commonly reported, ignores Noordgesig.
This is probably because Noordgesig was not part of Greater Orlando until the end of apartheid but was considered a separate reality and inhabited by coloured so it has never entered the official documents regarding Orlando or Soweto that are historically inhabited by whites.
Noordgesig is located on part of the territory of its farms that the government bought in the 1930s, Diepkloof and Klipspruit, to settle the first people who were evicted from their homes; the construction of this neighborhood was approved in 1937.
The Moroka neighborhood in Soweto
The Moroka neighborhood was born in 1946 and for some time it was an immense expanse of irregular settlements where 30,000 people moved; it soon became one of the worst slums in Soweto.
Moroka Swallows Football Club, one of the three Soweto football clubs playing in the South African first division, was founded in this neighborhood in 1947.
In 1956, Sir Oppenheimer lent the government 6 million Rand to build houses for the inhabitants of Moroka that partly replaced the tin shacks.
Oppenheimer's funds were used to build 1,450 houses in Moroka, and it also triggered a building boom in the surrounding areas.
Moroka owes its name to Dr James Sebe Moroka who was one of the ANC presidents.
The Dude neighborhood in Soweto
The Dude neighborhood was founded in 1948 and from 1954 hosted middle-class blacks who built their homes and this made Dude one of the most glamorous areas of Soweto.
In 1955 a dormitory was built for male workers, migrants and workers who had been banned from living and working in urban areas; these dormitories were built for a decade.
Dube owes its name to John Langalibalele, lecturer, founder of a newspaper and first president of the ANC.
The Jabavu neighborhood in Soweto
The Jabavu area began to be inhabited in the immediate post-war period, it is located near Orlando West and here people moved from Orlando and other areas and thus Central Western Jabavu was born, a large irregular settlement with some houses and many shacks, it is estimated that around 1,000 families moved here.
In 1954, 5,100 houses were built thanks to funds given by Oppenheimer to the government.
This neighborhood owes its name to the professor and author Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu.
The Mofolo neighborhood in Soweto
This area of Soweto began to be inhabited in 1954 and owes its name to Thomas Mofolo, a Sesotho lecturer, author and translator.
Today here is the Mofolo Park in Mzilikazi Street; this park, well known and frequented by the inhabitants of Soweto, regularly hosts jazz festivals, gospel choirs, carnivals, streetpop sessions and other events and concerts by local and international artists.
Where Mofolo Park is now located in the past there was a huge landfill of rubble that has been removed in order to redevelop this area.
The Meadowlands neighborhood in Soweto
The Meadowlands neighborhood was born in 1956, where blacks who previously lived in Sophiatown were moved, after the Natives Resettlement Act of 1954 was passed.
Meadowands was not administered by the Johannesburg City Council as it was for Soweto.
In 1968, another 22,500 black families were relocated between Meadowands and Diepkloof and the reason they were moved to these areas was because the city administration wanted them to be reallocated to areas that were not administered by white town halls.
Since 1973 this area has changed its name to Diepmeadows and since 1978 the Diepmeadows Town Council was created as it was decided that this territory should not be annexed to the Soweto Council.
The Jabulani neighborhood in Soweto
The neighborhood of Jabulani in Soweto was born, like most of the irregular settlements or townships, in 1956 following the application of the Natives Resettlement Act of 1954 that saw the relocation of the entire non-white population outside the Johannesburg city hall.
Now the neighborhood of Jabulani, in particular Jabulani Node, is one of the most dynamic areas of Soweto, it is a modern and vibrant reality to the point that many have nicknamed it the Sandton of Soweto.
The development of Jabulani has taken place in recent years, since 2006, also following the opening of the Jabulani Mall that has attracted the attention of other investors; in addition, the old homes of male workers have been converted into family homes and all other traces of the gloomy past have been erased.
Jabulani is a word in the Zulu language meaning to rejoice.
The Molapo neighborhood in Soweto
The Molapo district in Soweto also arose in 1956 and today, together with the Moroka district, forms Ward 33 or District 33 where one of the largest parks in Soweto is located, the Thokoza Park that was built in the mid-2000s and a cricket ground that dates back to the 1950s.
Molapo is a Sasotho word meaning both cliff and stream, but in this area there are not only Basotho, but also Zulu and Swana; most of the inhabitants speak iziZulu
In recent years, irregular settlements have progressively decreased while the masonry houses in which mainly the families of those who have lived in this area for some time have lived, but there are also some immigrants.
In Molapo there is an area called Coal-yards, the coal yards; almost exclusively immigrants from Lesotho live in the shacks of this small irregular settlement.
The Diepkloof neighborhood in Soweto
The Diepkloof neighborhood in Soweto is also known as Diepmeadow and is often considered a single neighborhood with Meadowlands although these two territories are separated by Orlando that is in between.
Like so many others, this district was also built in 1956 to accommodate those who were forcibly evicted from the territories of the Johannesburg City Hall.
In the 1980s the neighborhood was extended following the growth of the middle class who lived here; Dobsonville and Selection Park are also the result of these extensions.
The middle class of Soweto still lives in these areas today.
The Zola neighborhood in Soweto
The district of Zola, built in 1956, is located in the Western part of Soweto; Zola means quiet in the Zulu and Xhosa languages, it is also known by the name of Mzambiya, meaning Zambia, or Mashona, meaning Western area.
Zola is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Soweto, it is known throughout South Africa for its gangsters such as the 11 Boys of the 60s, the Maumaus of the 70s and the Chivas and Big 18s in the 80s and early 90s.
But the Zola district is also a tourist destination and is where many musicians and football players were born; but some of them have moved to the nearby Jabulani neighborhood.
The Dobsonville neighborhood in Soweto
The Dobsonville neighborhood in Soweto lies West of Meadowlands along Soweto's Southern border; it is an important neighborhood but has not been studied for a long time.
This neighborhood has its roots in the old area of Roodeport and, between 1955 and 1967, following the forced evacuation, it was partially destroyed to make room for its new inhabitants.
In the old part there were many churches, this part of the district has however maintained a very strong link with the newer part; a lot of testimonies from the inhabitants of Dobsonville have recently been collected but a study on the history of the neighborhood has not yet been published.
Dobsonville is now a neighborhood inhabited by the black emerging middle class.
Other districts of Soweto that arose between 1956 and 1958
Following the Natives Resettlement Act of 1954, many neighborhoods have sprung up in the area now known as Greater Soweto; here many people have been relocated who have been removed from their homes and lands.
In addition to the aforementioned Jabulani, Zola, Diepkloof, Molapo and Meadowlands, other districts have sprung up:
Tshiawelo, meaning resting place in the Venda language
Mapetla, meaning someone who is angry in the Tswana language
Moletsane, name of a leader of the Bataung Sotho clan
Naledi, meaning star in Sotho, Pedi and Tswana; before it was called Mkizi
Zondi, that is the name of a Zulu family
Tladi, meaning lightning in Northern Sotho
Dlamini, that is the name of a Nguni family
Phiri, meaning hyena in Sotho; here the Sotho and Tswana were relocated
Senaoane, like Solomon G Senaoane