Soweto is an acronym for South-Western Townships, a sprawling city 20 minutes to the south of Johannesburg’s CBD. Under the apartheid regime it was set aside exclusively for African ethnic groups and came to the world’s attention in June 1976 because of student uprisings.
The Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial Square honours schoolboy Hector Pieterson, who was one of the first victims shot by police during the student protests. From this site, the protests grew into a nationwide uprising. The entire area has been declared a national heritage site. Well-informed guides tell the unfolding of events that led to clashes between the police and students.
While Sowetan suburbs range from exclusive to make-do and dilapidated, the place has soul thanks to numerous cultural-cum-art centres, shebeens (informal African-style taverns), ethnic restaurants and important monuments and venues honouring those involved in the struggle for democracy.
Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived here during apartheid. Mandela’s humble four-room Vilakazi Street home – where he lived before being imprisoned and shortly after his release – has been turned into a museum. Vilakazi Street is also famous for the fact that two Nobel Peace Prize winners – Mandela and Tutu - once lived here.
An easy option for exploring Soweto is to take a guided tour.