In 1904 an outbreak of the bubonic plague was used as an excuse by the Johannesburg city council to ship over 2000 blacks and Indians to a settlement 18km from the city centre. By the 1930’s Orlando was built and as Jobergs population continued to grow, by the 1950’s 20 other suburbs had been built around Orlando. The area was officially named South Western Townships, abbreviated to Soweto in 1963. Today Soweto plays an important part in the history of South Africa.
A basic house in Vilakazi street, almost identical to 1000’s of other single floor dwellings in Soweto, is where Nelson Mandela lived with his wife Winnie and their children. Winnie stayed with Nelson for the whole 27 years he was behind bars, but when he was released in 1991 she bin bagged him within a year.
We know Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter, but he was also a boxer during his younger years. The WBC World Heavyweight Championship belt, which was held by Sugar Ray Leonard at the time, was gifted to him by the man himself shortly after his realise from prison.
Only a few doors down on the same street is the house of South Africa Anglican cleric Desmond Tutu, thus making Vilakazi street the only street in the world where two Nobel laureates have lived. Just over the road the chiropodist of both men lives, defeet is not so….
Hector Pietersen was a 13 year old black boy who was killed when the police opened fire on protesting students during the Soweto uprising of 1976. The peaceful protest was against the introduction of Afrikaans as means of instruction in all secondary schools, regardless of the locally-spoken language, some exams were also written in Afrikaans. That’s like telling a load of year 8 comprehensive kids they have to sit their SATS in Mandarin. The Hector Pietersen memorial stands near the place where he was shot in Orlando.
The Orlando Stadium is home to the Orlando Pirates, the third biggest club in South Africa, after Manchester United and Arsenal.
The Orlando Towers used to act as the cooling towers for the power station which fuelled Johannesburg for over 50 years. Now they contain the largest mural paintings and advertisements in South Africa and are used as a bungee jumping centre which included a rowdy bar to build up that Afrikaan courage.
Most visitors who come to Soweto take a tour around the townships on a bus or a bicycle. I much preferred walking around on my own and felt rather safe as I don’t like the idea of people watching in a human zoo. Instead I opted to go on a bird tour with Raymond Rampolongkeng aka ‘The Birdman of Soweto’.
The tour started out around the dirty marshland around the Orlando Towers, where an extremely knowledgable Raymond told me about his life in Soweto and how he became a bird guide. It wasn’t the most picturesque spot, but I could see past the plastic bags and shopping trollies to spot some Cape Longclaws and Red Bishops.
We moved up to the Enoch Sontonga hills, named after the composer who wrote the South African national anthem up here under the Sowetan Skies. Here some of the locals still practice traditional African beliefs and use the hills as a place of worship to be closer to the gods. Here is a good place to spot numerous mousebirds, a species which gets their name from their similar appearance and movement to mice.
Coming to Soweto was a good idea as I feel like I’ve got to experience the real side of Joberg, away from the crime and heavy security of the centre. One things for sure, wind, rain or African hailstone, you can always get a decent grilled chicken in Soweto!