One of the most popular things to do for tourists while in South Africa is a visit to Soweto township – an area that gained international status during the country’s fight for emancipation.
While the whole country played its part during South Africa's liberation, Soweto became legendary as the heartbeat of the struggle, and as a place that was home to most of apartheid’s most wanted men, including the likes of Nelson Mandela. The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ has once again brought Soweto to centre stage as one of the hot spots for tourists who are on a quest to explore and get some experience of a place that played a key role in the fight against apartheid.
Sowetans have welcomed the influx of foreign visitors, which have enabled them not only to trade but also to exchange experience and learn more about different cultures. Among the noteworthy tourist attractions in Soweto are the Hector Peterson Museum, which covers the Student Uprising of 16 June, 1976, extensively, Vilakazi Street and the Orlando Stadium. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where you will find the homes of two Nobel Prize winners in Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Meanwhile, Orlando Stadium is regarded as the spiritual home of football in South Africa, a place where some of the country’s most successful football stars including Jomo Sono and Lucas Radebe nurtured their skills and shot to fame.
Mbongeni Marageno, a 15-year-old from Vilakazi Street has claimed the recent influx of touists as an opportunity to be entrepreneur. He and his friend, Lebogang Mthalane, have decided to use their singing talent to entertain visitors in exchange for small amounts of money. Both are football enthusiast, but they have not been able to attend any FIFA World Cup matches because their parents, who are domestic workers, cannot afford a ticket. When they “knock off” at their work in Vilakazi street, they catch up with football from television.
For them, this World Cup is an opportunity to both make a living and also gain experience by talking to foreigners. “The people are fantastic to us. We approach people when they visit Mandela house and we rap for them," Mbongeni said. "Some people give us money, some would spend time talking to us about their countries. It has been a wonderful experience for us. More importantly, we have been able to save some money that will come in handy when we have to assist our parents at home."
Joe Ndlovu is another who has benefited from the tourists who visit Soweto. His unique dance moves, known as isiPantsula in Soweto, are from a type of chorography invented in the townships in the days of apartheid. One of the sad indictments of the former South Africa was that it created an environment where the people, especially those who lived in the townships, were not exposed to the outside world. After 16 years of democracy, this has changed a lot but a long road lies ahead.
For tourists, the visits to Soweto have been both eye-opening and educating. Natalie King, from the United States, arrived in South Africa more than a week ago, and she was thrilled to be in Soweto. “The first place I wanted to come to when I arrived in this country was Soweto and I’m glad that I’m here," she said. "The visit has been eye-opening, to be honest, I’m a bit emotional. I have read a lot about this place, but to be here is something special, it’s a moving experience for me."
Australian, John Stanley has been enjoying the interaction with locals. “The people here are really friendly," he said. "One of the things that this World Cup has been able to do is to change some stereotypes. When you come here, you see a different picture from what you were told."