Soweto is the only place in the world to have raised two Nobel Peace Prize winners. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had residences on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.
The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is the largest hospital in the world with over 3,000 beds.
The name Soweto was first used in 1963 to describe the groups of townships to the south west of Johannesburg and is an acronym for South Western Townships. These townships were established after an outbreak of bubonic plague in the inner city slums of Johannesburg in 1904, but under the apartheid government, many black South Africans were forcefully relocated from the city and its suburbs to Soweto and other townships.
Most visitors take a tour to Soweto from their Johannesburg hotel. However, you can do Soweto independently, either by car or suburban rail.
Soweto is an increasingly popular destination for travellers from around the world. Take a tour or just drive in yourself using GPS set to Vilakazi Street... the road infrastructure and signage are excellent. Alternatively, take a MetroRail suburban train from Johannesburg Park station bound for either Naledi (for northern Soweto), Oberholzer or Vereeniging (for southern Soweto). There are many stations in Soweto, so check out first which one serves your destination. Close to the Nancefield station is the Maponya Mall where you can join the Sowetan middle classes as they entertain themselves with retail and movies!
Unless you are with Soweto locals, you probably do not want to stray from the tourist-friendly Orlando West area (served by Phefeni train station) on your own. Soweto is huge, and those without an African complexion will feel very conspicuous.
Most choose to visit Soweto as part of an official tour group by a SATSA-accredited tour guide.
Several tour operators are available:
- Imbizo Tours. Tel:+27 (0)11 838-2667.
- Soweto By Nite [dead link]. Tel:+27 (0)82 748 1588.
- Soweto.co.za. Tel:+27 (0)11 326 1700.
- Mandela's Soweto. Tel:+27 (0)84 840 2847. Professional tour guides using luxury minivans.
- Soweto Voyage. Tel:"+27" (0)82 818 1010. Soweto-based tour operator offering fully guided day and night tours of this chaotic but otherwise energetic and vibrant place. Tours use private cars and minibuses and include visits to many cultural, heritage and historical places including buffet lunch/ dinner/ supper. Night shebeen tours are also on offer. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1 Nelson Mandela National Museum (Mandela House), 8115 Ngakane Street, Orlando West, ☏ . Open daily 9:30AM-5PM.
- 2 Hector Pietersen Museum, 8288 Maseko Street, Orlando West, ☏ . Open M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 10AM-4PM. Try to allow at least an hour here. Great bookshop inside.
- 3 Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, Corner Ntsane and Majoeng streets, ☏ . Open daily 6AM-6PM. Open air museum with restored Zulu and Sotho villages Free.
- 4 Regina Mundi Catholic Church, 1149 Khumalo Street, ☏ . Largest Roman Catholic church in South Africa. Due to the role it played as a place of gathering for the people of Soweto in the years before, during, and after the anti-apartheid struggle, it is often referred to as "the people's church" or "the people's cathedral".
- 5 Petrus Molefe Eco Park. Ecological park with a monument to Petrus Molefe who the first member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of ANC, to be killed.
- 1 Soweto Theatre, Corner Bolani Rd and Bolani Link, ☏ .
- Walk through Baragwanath Taxi rank area and eat some "Runnaways" (chicken feet) with the locals or try some "Smily's" (grilled sheeps head)
- Visit a real Shebeen (drinking place), not just the touristy places
- Be seen at the Soweto Wine Festival, the most successful trend-setting annual lifestyle event held in Soweto.
- B's Place, 5541 Shuenane Street, Orlando East, ☏ .
- Sakhumzi Restaurant, 6980 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Wandies, 618 Makhalamele Street, Dube, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Offers some of the best indigenous South African menus, including Mogodu (tripe) and pap. Put you business card on the wall with those of many visitors before.
- The Back Room, Shop 20, Pimville Square Shopping Center, Modjadji Str, ☏ .
- Botle Guest House, 648 Monyane St, Dube, ☏ , fax: .
- Dakalo Bed and Breakfast, 6963 Inhlwathi St, Orlando West, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Ekhaya Guesthouse, 8027 Bacela St, Orlando West, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lolo's Guesthouse, 1320 Diepkloof Ext, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ email@example.com.
- Vhavhenda Hills, 11749 Mampuru St, Orlando West, ☏ , , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
By and large, contrary to popular belief, Soweto is a pretty safe place for tourists to visit. It is not the easiest place to drive around in by yourself, so if you are going to stay there overnight, get the bed and breakfast owner to meet you on one of the main roads and follow the owner in or get a transfer in. If you are going to do a tour, go with one of the registered tour companies (see above or contact SATSA). Try to make sure that the tour company is using a local Soweto/Johannesburg guide as that makes a better insight to the place and its history.