Soweto Cultural Tour

Soweto Cultural Tour, Johannesburg, South Africa (A)

Soweto is a township in the south of Johannesburg. It is considered to be the largest informal settlement on the African continent. The site is historically significant from the Apartheid era. During the tour, you can visit Nelson Mandela's house, Hector Pieterson Museum and enjoy live street performances and restaurants.
Image Courtesy of Iva Paneva.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Soweto Cultural Tour
Guide Location: South Africa » Johannesburg
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: Iva Paneva
Author Bio: Iva Paneva is a freelance journalist, performer and filmmaker. She has a passion for travel and photography. Working primarily in the entertainment, media and travel industries.Currently living in South Africa, Iva has great skills in research, finding places and exploring new ventures. Her passion for knowledge translates in her ability to provide accurate cultural insights within the South African context.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hector Pieterson Museum
  • Hector Pieterson Memorial
  • Phefeni Train Station
  • Vilakazi Street
  • Wired statue on Moema Street
  • Mandela Family Restaurant
  • Mandela House
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu house
Hector Pieterson Museum

1) Hector Pieterson Museum

Hector Pieterson was one of the students that took part in the Student Uprising march in Soweto. On June 16, 1979, a group of students organized a peaceful protest march against the introduction of Afrikaans as an official medium of instruction in all African schools. Hector Pieterson, only 13 years old, was one of the first to be killed during the event. Subsequently, he became a symbol of resistance against the Apartheid government. The students’ confrontation with the police, and the events taken place on June 16, provoked an outburst of students’ protests across the whole of South Africa. The famous picture of Mbuyiswa, carrying the dying young boy in his arms, taken by Sam Nzima, captured the international attention of the monstrosities of the Apartheid regime. The museum was open in 2002 and was the first to be established in Soweto. The exhibits that you can see within its permanent collection are photographs, newspaper clippings and video footage that cover the events leading to the Students Uprising. Curated with a touch of modernism, the museum contains various prints of original photographs and specified viewing rooms where you can sit and watch documentaries about the subject and the reasons behind the students' protests.
Image Courtesy of Babak Fakhamzadeh.
Hector Pieterson Memorial

2) Hector Pieterson Memorial

The memorial raised in the memory of the children killed during the students' peaceful march in Soweto, 1979, serves as a legacy for the numerous innocent lives taken during the struggle against Apartheid. The Student Uprising on June 16 accelerated the historical course of events towards the abolishment of Apartheid and the release of political prisoners. After the establishment of Democracy in South Africa in 1994, the new government proclaimed June 16 as an official Youth Day and a public holiday. The Hector Pieterson Memorial is situated in front of the museum and its modern design and water features provide a place to rest and admire the view on Soweto.
Phefeni Train Station

3) Phefeni Train Station

Walking along the footsteps of the schoolchildren from June 16, 1976, serves as a cathartic walk towards freedom. Once you have completed your visit at the Hector Pieterson Memorial, continue your tour of Soweto by taking Pela road. After a short distance, you will reach the top of the hill, where you can enjoy a magnificent view on the entire Orlando West and East precincts, which are both part of Soweto. In the distance, you can admire Orlando stadium, mainly used for local soccer matches, but also national rugby games. The two colorful towers that you can see on the horizon are the famous Orlando Cooling Towers. At the top of the hill is located the Phefeni Train Station, part of the Metrorail Gauteng community rail system. The railway transport is used by a large amount of locals on a daily basis. On the other side of the railway tracks is situated the Meadowlands hostel, also known as the Worker’s hostel. During Apartheid, the migrant workers that came to Johannesburg to find seasonal work lived in these gray and unattractive structures before going back to their rural homes and buy cattle for their families. Therefore, the hostels symbolically represent roughness, male aggressiveness and tough lifestyle. This is the reason why the current government embarked on a project that will revamp the old buildings and turn them into family homes. ‘The Public Sector Hostels Redevelopment Programme’ is one of the initiatives aiming to transform the pains of the struggles from the Apartheid area into new beginnings and innovations. Although there not special artworks along this part of Soweto, walking along Pela street will provide you with a insight view on the local lifestyle and see the way the residents live in this area.
Image Courtesy of TFCforever.
Vilakazi Street

4) Vilakazi Street

The famous Vilakazi Street is world-known as the home of two Nobel Prize winners and freedom fighters, namely Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. It is named after Dr. Vilakazi, an African poet and novelist, which is also the first black intellectual to teach at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Walking along the newly renovated street gives an overall impression of the township as a whole. From schoolkids running around, to street dancers and vendors, the atmosphere is vibrant and buzzing. Original craft items are sold on the street, which you can buy or just admire while walking to the Mandela House. The street is also famous because it was part of the route taken by the marching schoolchildren in 16 June 1979. Along Vilakazi Street, you can see performers entertaining both tourist and locals. The professional dancers dressed in traditional outfits showcase their talents alongside African drum rhythms. The dancers combine traditional African styles with acrobatics and singing. They let you take a picture and dance with them if you are up to it. The dancers use tribal dance as a base of their performance. They start dancing as a team and alternate displaying their individual talents. The traditional African dancing is used on different occasions and has a cultural and spiritual significance for the region. You can give your contributions in the designated place by the dancers.
Wired statue on Moema Street

5) Wired statue on Moema Street

When walking along Vilakazi Street Precinct, you will be able to observe numerous artworks created by local artists, commissioned by the City of Johannesburg and the Johannesburg Development Agency. These two government organizations have identified the area as one of the most important cultural and historical sights of post-Apartheid South Africa. From 2006 to 2010, selected South African artists were tasked to create artworks that would exemplify the historical significance of the events taken place in 1976 in this area in order to preserve their historical implications. On the corner of Moema and Vilakazi streets, one of the permanent artworks is a large wired statue, representing the events from the Soweto Uprising and the schoolchildren’s passionate protest. The statue evokes their desire for freedom by depicting them with their arms raised in the air. The two meter high modern statue also portrays an angry policeman along the gesticulating children. Another artwork can be seen on the same street corner, which is a stonewall, symbolizing the spot where Hector Pieterson was killed. Although there is not strong evidence this to be the actual location of his killing, the stonewall serves to once again preserve his memory for future generations.
Mandela Family Restaurant

6) Mandela Family Restaurant

The restaurant is located across the Mandela House and is an ideal place to have a coffee break or something to eat. The atmosphere is cosy and inviting. The menu offers traditional African cuisine. Across this family restaurant, there are two other possible places, where you could go and enjoy a gourmet lunch. Sakhumzi Maqubela's restaurant, located just across the Mandela House has tables outside and live music performers singing while you eat. The shady trees and diverse menu will compliment this enjoyfull experience. Nambitha restaurant is another possible place where you could enjoy a good eating experience. Historically significant, due to the family name of the owner, Khulani Vilakazi, who is the grandson of Dr. Vilakazi, the famous anti-Apartheid freedom fighter, will offer you a variety of menu choices from greek salads to local specialities.

When eating at one of the restaurants, try to order one of the typical South African dishes: boerewors (a grilled barbecued sausage), bobotie (a meatloaf with an egg on top served with rice) and the most common traditional dish, pap, made from maize and served with gravy and meat of your choice.
Image Courtesy of South African Tourism.
Mandela House

7) Mandela House

The former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela is a symbol of Democracy, reconciliation and human rights. Nelson Mandela and his family lived in this house between 1946 and 1990. The Mandela Family museum exhibits the live of this world-renowned family. The small rooms full of original items and photographs are typical for a Soweto house from the 50s. The museum offers the services of professional guides that will give you a tour of the house and explain its historical significance. While Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela lived in this house and continued the struggle on his behalf. During the guided tour, you will see the hiding places used by the Mandela family while the police was firing at the house.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu house

8) Archbishop Desmond Tutu house

A block away from the Mandela House is the house of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The two extraordinary human rights activists don't only share a Nobel Peace Prize title, but the same neighbourhood. The main difference is that while Mandela's old house was turned into a museum, Desmond Tutu remained living in Soweto, close to the people. Therefore, the famous tourist attraction can only be seem from outside, as he is currently living there. The renovated house, with a modern facade and fancy exterior, stands out against the low class houses that you can see in the distance. Desmond Tutu's contribution to the abolishment of Apartheid is enormous and his decision to stay in the neighbourhood where he lived during the struggle speaks about his character. Not only was Desmond Tutu the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, but also he was known to advocate friendly persuasion during the struggle. He is also renowned to introduce the term ‘rainbow nation’ when referring to the multiracial and ethnically diverse South African community. During Apartheid, Desmond Tutu strongly criticized not only the Apartheid government, but also the violent approach of some anti-Apartheid groups such as the African National Congress.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, Desmond Tutu has subsequently recovered after successful treatment. Since then, he established the South African Prostate Cancer Foundation in 2007 and still continues to promote peace and equity both locally and internationally.
Image Courtesy of Steven dosRemedios.

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