Why You Need To Visit Soweto When In Jo-Burg

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No offense to the city of Johannesburg, but one thing you hear over and over when you’re traveling in South Africa is, “Fly in and leave, there’s nothing to do there.” Of course this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is hard for the city to live up to the high expectations of travelers, what with everything else they’re seeing and doing while in the region. But if you do happen to find yourself in the city for more than a day or two, there’s probably nothing better you can do than take a trip to Soweto.

A short drive southwest from Johannesburg — the area’s name is short for South Western Township — there are many guides that will pick you up from your hostel or hotel and show you around the now very diverse township. The area was formed as a result of the influx of African workers looking for cheap housing at the end of the 19th-century, and grew to become a potent symbol of apartheid as black Africans were relocated there during the apartheid era.

As the NZ Herald explores, though apartheid is long gone, the area is still home to some of the worst living conditions and poorest of the population. However, as I learned while touring it, there is also a strong undercurrent of hope that pervades the area, with strong middle-class neighborhoods sprouting up, and even a high-end mall that Johannesburg is, unfortunately, so well known for.

If you go, don’t miss seeing Winnie Mandela’s and Desmond Tutu’s homes, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum (pictured above), and Wandie’s Place, one of the city’s most famous restaurants, and whose site boasts that both Quincy Jones and Evander Holyfield have eaten there. You had me at Quincy Jones.

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