The name Soweto was first used in 1963 to describe the groups of townships to the south west of Johannesburg and is an acronym for South Western Townships. These townships were established after an outbreak of bubonic plague in the inner city slums of Johannesburg in 1904, but under the apartheid government, many black South Africans were forcefully relocated from the city and its suburbs to Soweto and other townships.
Most visitors to Soweto take a tour from their Johannesburg hotel. However, you can do Soweto independently, either by car or suburban rail.
Soweto is an increasingly popular destination for travellers from around the world. Take a tour or just drive in yourself using GPS set to Vilakazi Street… the road infrastructure and signage are excellent. Alternatively, take a MetroRail suburban train from Johannesburg Park station bound for either Naledi (for northern Soweto), Oberholzer or Vereeniging (for southern Soweto). There are many stations in Soweto, so check out first which one serves your destination. Close to the Nancefield station is the Maponya Mall where you can join the Sowetan middle classes as they entertain themselves with retail and movies!
Unless you are with Soweto locals, you probably do not want to stray from the tourist-friendly Orlando West area (served by Phefeni train station) on your own. Soweto is huge, and those without an African complexion will feel very conspicuous.
Most choose to visit Soweto as part of an official tour group by a SATSA-accredited tour guide.
Several tour operators are available:
- Imbizo Tours. Tel:+27 (0)11 838-2667.
- Soweto By Nite. Tel:+27 (0)82 748 1588.
- Soweto.co.za. Tel:+27 (0)11 326 1700.
- Mandela’s Soweto. Tel:+27 (0)84 840 2847. Professional tour guides using luxury minivans.
- Soweto Voyage. Tel:”+27″ (0)82 818 1010. Soweto-based tour operator offering fully guided day and night tours of this chaotic but otherwise energetic and vibrant place. Tours use private cars and minibuses and include visits to many cultural, heritage and historical places including buffet lunch/ dinner/ supper. Night shebeen tours are also on offer. e-mail: email@example.com
- Credo Mutwa Village, Corner Ntsane and Majoeng streets, Central Western Jabavu, ☎+27 11 930-1813. daily 6AM-6PM. Restored Zulu and Sotho villages
- Hector Pietersen Museum, 8288 Maseko Street, Orlando West, ☎+27 11 536-0611. M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Try to allow at least an hour here. Great bookshop inside.
- Mandela Family Museum, 8115 Ngakane Street, Orlando West, ☎+27 11 936-7754. daily 9:30AM-5PM.
- Regina Mundi Church, 1149 Khumalo Street, Moroka, ☎+27 11 986-2546. The people’s parliament.