Soweto is found in South Johannesburg, South Africa. Soweto which stands for South Western Townships was created as part of the 1956 strategy of the government to group black Africans according to independent homelands. In reality, it was part of the apartheid system where racial segregation wherein towns were put up as part of the separation of whites, natives, “coloured,” and Asians.
Soweto has a rich history fraught with struggle and violence which makes it more than part of your usual African city of gold. The population of Soweto is over 2 million according to the 2010 GeoNames database. In 2001, they were considered to be have the highest number of blacks in an African urban community in the South Africa. Soweto, South Africa has an exploding population largely due to its location which is a community part of Johannesburg – the economic boom city of the country.
The People of Soweto
The people in Soweto call themselves Sowetans. They are proud of their heritage and are very much in touch with what is going in the rest of the world. It would be apt to say that they consider themselves urbanised and cosmopolitan. They have an intriguing local dialect called Tsotsitaal. It’s a blend of different languages including slang which means new words are being added on a regular basis.
Soweto music is known world-wide amongst lovers of the gospel choir. They have produced some of the best gospel choir music in the world. The Soweto Gospel Choir was formed in 2002 and its main aim is to showcase African culture through music. Their soulful voices are heard in its first album, Voices from Heaven and was nominated to receive the South African Music Awards for gospel choir music. This same album got Billboard’s #1 spot 3 weeks after it’s U.S. debut. The gospel choir also earned a Grammy Award for another album, Blessed in 2007.
Famous Soweto Personalities
Soweto is also known largely because it has been the birthplace or residence of many luminaries in world history. Desmond Tutu is an activist/Anglican bishop who was born in the Transvaal but decided to put up a private residence in Soweto. He is known as the burning light in the fight against apartheid, Aids, and poverty, among others. His home is private and not accessibly to anyone outside his circle.
It is close to another international figure, Nelson Mandela whose wife Winnie oversees the Mandela House in Soweto along with the Soweto Heritage Trust group. The house was the residence of Nelson Mandela and his family between 1946 to the 1990s. After which, it was donated to the group. Nelson Mandela was born in Qunu and represents an unwavering commitment to democracy. Along with Desmond Tutu, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
A local hero whom Sowetans remember with fierce pride is Hector Pieterson who at the tender age of 12 was shot and killed by police fire. His memorial in Soweto is a testimony to the bravery and courage of young students who fought in 1976 for the right to a better education and equality. His sister, Antoinette helps out in the museum beside the memorial as a guide to anyone who visits.
Other personalities are soccer teams, singing diva, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, boxing legend Baby Jake Matlala, mathematician genius, Thamsangqa Kambule, doctor Nthato Motlana who fought alongside Mandela, and journalist and vocal peace advocate Aggrey Klaaste who have worked hard to put Soweto in the international arena.
The Survival of Soweto
As attested to in the discrepancies in the prices of Johannesburg properties, Soweto has an invisible line between the have and the have-nots. Infrastructure reflects this situation because the hostels are either well planned or prison-like. Labor is cheap and plentiful. The idea of being able to find gold is still a pipe dream for many. So much so that squatter camps are seen popping up in many areas around Soweto. These informal settlements have no source for clean water and electricity.
Yet overpowering the poverty, pride among the Sowetans remain their most significant characteristic and the one factor that will carry them through rough times.