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Soweto township marks centenary


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Soweto township marks centenary

South Africa's famous Soweto township has marked 100 years since its creation in a mood of optimism far removed from the days of apartheid.

As part of the celebrations, residents and dignitaries planted a tree near the site of the original settlement.

Soweto's oldest school, Musi secondary school, provided entertainment.

Soweto began when tens of thousands of Johannesburg's black residents were sent there from the city centre as the white authorities imposed segregation.

Leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived there, and riots in the 1970s paved the way for democracy.

Now the area is seen by some as a model of hope for South Africa as a whole.


'Top of the world'

"Soweto is not a place of doom and gloom - it's a place of hope," local businessman Dan Moyane told the BBC.

"It's a place where some of us come and get inspiration and the way things are at the moment, Soweto in my mind has to form the base of a new future for South Africa."

Martha Ramabusa, 72, whose mother was one of the first people born on the new settlement, told Reuters news agency: "When my gran came here there were just four houses here and it was still bush, with wild animals around the place."


Anti-apartheid struggle

Soweto, which is an acronym for Johannesburg's South West Townships, is now home to more than 3.5 million people.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead says the area is a vibrant, energetic township where community seems to mean so much more than in Johannesburg's sterile, security-ringed suburbs.

During apartheid, Soweto became a hotbed of resistance to the government and political activity.

The student riots of 1976 began here and spread across the country, paving the way towards the end of apartheid.

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle was the shooting dead of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson by a policeman in Soweto in June 1976, during a demonstration against the use of Afrikaans as the teaching language in schools.

His death, captured by harrowing photographs seen across the world marked a turning point which finally brought democracy 10 years ago.



Now life is slowly improving for the inhabitants. Water and electricity has been provided for many people, but not all.

In Soweto, as in other townships, thousands of shacks have been cleared away and replaced with solid houses, with proper roadways and street lighting.

There are even some small guest houses, restaurants, small shopping malls with security guards, and a new supermarket.

Thousands of tourists also visit Soweto every year, stopping off at Nelson Mandela's old house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and landmarks where some of the biggest battles against apartheid were fought out.

While Aids and unemployment are still huge problems in Soweto, there is a real feeling of optimism that the next 100 years have good things in store for the sprawling township, our correspondent says.

The authorities say the money raised from events to mark the anniversary will be used to help to improve the township.

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3735262.stm]BBC




The Making of Soweto

Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country, with Census 2001 putting its population at 896 995. Thanks to its proximity to Johannesburg, the economic hub of the country, it is also the most metropolitan township in the country - setting trends in politics, fashion, music, dance and language.

But the township was, from its genesis, a product of segregationist planning. It was back in 1904 that Klipspruit, the oldest of a cluster of townships that constitute present day Soweto, was established. The township was created to house mainly black labourers, who worked in mines and other industries in the city, away from the city centre. The inner city was later to be reserved for white occupation as the policy of segregation took root.

But it was not until 1963 that the acronym, Soweto, was adopted as the official name for the South Western Townships, following a four-year public competition on an appropriate name for the sprawling township.

The perennial problems of Soweto have, since its inception, included poor housing, overcrowding, high unemployment and poor infrastructure. This has seen settlements of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets becoming part of the Soweto landscape. Apartheid planning did not provide much in terms of infrastructure, and it is only in recent years that the democratic government has spearheaded moves to plant trees, develop parks, and install electricity and running water to some parts of the township.

Soweto has also been a hotbed of many political campaigns that took place in the country, the most memorable of which was the 1976 student uprising. Other politically charged campaigns to have germinated in Soweto include the squatter movement of the 1940s and the defiance campaigns of the mid-to-late 1980s.

The area has also spawned many political, sporting and social luminaries, including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - two Nobel peace price laureates, who once lived in the now famous Vilakazi Street in Orlando West. Other prominent figures to have come from Soweto include boxing legend, Baby Jake Matlala, singing diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka and soccer maestro, Jomo Sono. Others include mathematician Prof Thamsanqa Kambule, medical doctor Nthato Motlana and prominent journalist Aggrey Klaaste.

The township has also produced the highest number of professional soccer teams in the country. Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Moroka Swallows all emerged from the township, and remain among the biggest soccer teams in the Premier Soccer League.

Homelessness has been a perennial feature of Soweto since its inception. With its uniform four-roomed matchbox houses, hostels and without trees, Soweto looks drab and grey. The hostels were built on the outskirts of various townships to house migrant workers who have historically lived on the fringes of Soweto communities.

With its high unemployment rate, the area has also spawned many gangsters and been a seedbed of criminal activity. Since the 1930s, various gangsters, mostly territorial formations of young, barely literate males, out of school and out of work, have come and gone.

The gangs come and go, fashions come and go, but the ubiquitous township continues to grow.

The extensions built in the 1980s to house the emerging middle class, mostly civil servants, have added some colour to the township.

Recent years have seen Soweto become a site of massive development projects and a major tourist attraction in the country.

Soweto Timeline

Source: City of Johannesburg















Images taken from the web

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