Soweto is a must-see for tourists (and locals) who are looking for more than just sun, sea and the big five. Being the most populous black urban residential area in the country, trend-setting Soweto, is infused with the history of the struggle against apartheid and has that distinct Jozi energy thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country. With heritage sites, restaurants, shebeens and accommodation aplenty, this trendy town offers guided bicycle, tuk tuk, walking and bus tours so there is something for everyone’s taste and needs. Soweto is well worth the visit.
Only In Soweto – Must see places to visit
The Regina Mundi Church
With its classic high A-frame structure, sleek wooden beams and trimmings, and myriad stained-glass windows, the Regina Mundi Church is a sight to behold. Modest on the outside, the inside of the church is a remarkably vast area that can accommodate 2 000 people seated or 5 000 standing.
Built in 1961 and officially opened in 1962, this is South Africa’s largest Roman Catholic Church and it lives up to its name – the Latin reginae mundi means “queen of the world” and is a reference to the Virgin Mother Mary.
Located in Rockville in the middle of Soweto, the church played a significant role in the anti-apartheid struggle and displays the bullet holes to prove it. Notably, it bears scars from the Soweto Uprising, which culminated on 16 June 1976 when students sought refuge within its walls.
Policemen pursued them and fired live ammunition inside the building, damaging the marble altar and crucifix. Today the bullet holes in the church ceiling and the damaged marble serve as tangible evidence of South Africa’s violent past.
Because of its role in the fight for freedom, the church is often referred to as “the people’s church”.
A plaque at the church details its long and eventful history.
An honorarium – a mural of the faces of distinguished freedom fighters, including Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Tutu and student leader Tsietsi Mashinini – donated by the Azanian People’s Organisation pays further tribute to the struggle heroes of the time.
Present-day Regina Mundi is still an integral part of social life in Soweto, hosting weddings, funerals and baptisms of the famous and the ordinary alike.
Tourists from across the world visit the church daily, and its garden has been transformed into a striking park.
Or Call: 011 986 2546
KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Innovative, compact and housed in an old hardware store on the edge of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, the Kliptown Open Air Museum brings to life the story of the Freedom Charter and the historic Congress of the People.
1950s South Africa was a chaotic and discriminatory place – apartheid was rife and the struggle for freedom was growing more desperate. It was here in 1955 that a people’s parliament (the Congress of the People) adopted the Freedom Charter (a forerunner to South Africa’s current Bill of Rights). The stories of the thousands of people who came out and contributed to the drafting of the Freedom Charter are now permanently documented at the Kliptown Open Air Museum.
Visitors can walk through a time pod of sorts, a commemorative history of “The People Shall Govern”, where stories of the processes and people involved in drafting the Freedom Charter are told through news clippings, photographs, documents, sculptures and oral testimonies.
Songs from the 1955 gathering are played in the background, further transporting visitors to that moment in time and immersing them in South Africa’s history. Wire sculptures of leading activists and ordinary people are annotated with personal testimonies that portray the great excitement and emotions of the event. Different elements of the politics, area and people have been woven into the museum’s and the surrounding area’s architecture.
Walter Sisulu Square is a hub of modern entertainment and community life with shops, restaurants, hawkers’ stalls, art galleries, the four-star Soweto Hotel and a tourist information office. There are also convention and conferencing facilities, restaurants and exhibition spaces in the square.
Taxis and buses are always available on this route, and the area is easily accessible by car. To really experience and appreciate the museum you should give yourself at least half a day. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Sundays from 10am to 4.30pm.
Or Call: 011 945 2000
Robby’s Place is a family-run restaurant and tavern in Pimville, located across the road from the Soweto Country Club golf course, en route to Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. It also offers B&B homestay accommodation. Husband and wife team Robby and Mapule Letsholo opened the establishment in 2001 and pride themselves on making every patron and guest feel at home.
The friendly tavern is an ideal stop for a drink and meals, which can be enjoyed indoors or outside in the courtyard. Bookings at least a day in advance is essential.
Robby’s Place can accommodate up to 100 diners and also hosts occasional jazz sessions with local artists. It’s a great place to stop, have a drink and mingle with locals for an authentic township experience (easy-going locals are always willing to share stories of life in Soweto).
Robby’s Place is known for its excellent hospitality and generous portions of delicious dishes.
It is open weekdays from 10am to 10pm, and weekends from 10am to 2am; the bar is open in the evening from 5.30pm.
Or Call: 011 933 7965
One of the most famous streets in Soweto and, indeed, South Africa, Orlando West’s Vilakazi Street is a buzz of memorial attractions, restaurants, street performers, and arts and crafts.
Vilakazi Street can also connect its world-famous status to two Nobel Peace Prizewinners: Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and the late former president Nelson Mandela, who once lived there. Their homes have now been turned into museums. Experienced tour guides will take you through the rich history and work these two gentlemen have achieved.
For an authentic “kasi” meal, visitors to this street are spoilt for choice – restaurants such as Nambitha and Sakhumzi offer buffet-style serving options, a great way to experiment with different tastes and flavours. There are also restaurants that cater to the upmarket diner; try Thrive, Nexdor and Vilakazi Restaurant, if this is what you have in mind.
Lichaba Car Wash offers more than just the name suggests: there’s also a chesa nyama (barbecue) and pub, a great way to spend a sunny day out in Soweto.
Walking Vilakazi Street, you will come across many arts and crafts stalls and street performers; buy some souvenirs or just simply admire the rhythm and dance that add to the already vibrant street.
MANDELA HOUSE MUSEUM
House 8115, Vilakazi Street, Orlando, Soweto – the most famous address in South Africa where our beloved Nelson Mandela lived on and off for 14 years.
Now, No. 8115 has been entrenched as one of South Africa’s most significant heritage sites because it tells the tale, in sound, film, interpretive panels and guided tours, of the Mandela family during the apartheid era and beyond.
You can still walk around the interior of the house as before, but now there is a highly narrative element to your experience, which is enhanced by the addition of a visitor centre.
Or Call: 011 936 4244
Originally the site of a coal fired power station, the Orlando Towers have become one of the most distinctive landmarks in Soweto.
Looking for action? The Orlando Towers is the ultimate action-junkie attraction with go-karting, paintball shooting, quad biking, rock climbing and bungee jumping!
At the base of the Orlando Towers lies Chaf Pozi, a popular shisa nyama and entertainment centre. Although the venue is known for its meat, the menu also caters for vegetarian and Halaal patrons. Chaf Pozi frequently hosts well-known and up-and-coming local artists and DJs, and is also available for corporate events and general celebrations.
At Chaf Pozi, diners get to select their own meat and spices from the “butchery” and to enjoy a drink on the verandah while their meat cooks on the braai. The menu includes mutton, beef,chicken, wors, samp, pap and fiery chakalaka. The restaurant can accomodate up to 1 000 patrons at a time making it a suitable venue for groups and parties. Transport can be arranged from other areas of the city to the restaurant. Open daily.
or Call: 071 674 4343
HECTOR PIETERSEN MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, situated in Orlando West, Soweto, commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid. The two commemorative sites are just a few blocks from where 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot in 1976.
On 16 June 1976, Soweto high school students took to the streets in a peaceful protest against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools.
The students planned to meet at Orlando Stadium before marching to the regional offices of the Department of Bantu Education, where they intended raising their grievances with the authorities. They carried placards that read, “Away with Afrikaans”, “Amandla awethu” (“Power to the people”) and “Free Azania” (“Free South Africa”), and sangNkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), now the national anthem of South Africa.
On the way to the stadium, they were met by the police, who ordered them to end the march and disperse. A violent confrontation ensued, in which students threw stones and police fired shots. News of the events in Soweto soon spread, igniting uprisings around the country in which more than 550 people died. One of the first to die on June 16 was Pieterson.
Sam Nzima, a photographer for The World newspaper in Johannesburg, was in Soweto, covering the riots. His iconic image of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, is a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime
In the early 1990s, the Hector Pieterson Memorial was erected on Khumalo Street, not far from where Pieterson was shot. On 16 June 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum opened on Maseko Street. The museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1976 uprising, is home to a collection of oral testimonies, pictures, audiovisual displays and historical documents relating to the Soweto uprisings. Together with the memorial, it commemorates those who died in the uprisings, and celebrates the students’ role in the struggle for freedom.
Or Call: 011 085 2500