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The famous notorious former township of Soweto – about 15 kilometres from the centre of Johannesburg – today covers an area of nearly 100 square kilometres, on which officially about one million, but unofficially more than 3 million people live. Originally created as temporary housing estates for the mine workers, Soweto became by the “Urban Areas Act” of 1923 to the ghetto of the black population of Johannesburg. Although a government housing program had created hundreds of thousands of simple 2-bedroom houses, the illegal squatter quarters continued to expand.
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Soweto stands for the resistance of the black population majority against the apartheid regime, especially in the 70s and 80s. When the government ordered in 1976 to drop English as a lesson language at higher schools and instead to introduce Afrikaans, there were mass protests by students and students in Soweto. The demonstrators were shot down brutally by the police. There were more than 500 victims.
The power plant is a symbol of Soweto’s transformation. Still, most of the visitors to Johannesburg associate with the township above all poverty and crime.
There are also many poor huts, in the middle of the road men slaughter a cow, women are queuing at a well, because there are no running water in their houses. Many corners of Soweto should be avoided especially at night. But there is also the other side of Soweto: a middle class has established itself, many houses are being renovated – and tourists have discovered Soweto. Many foreigners go on a guided tour on foot or by minibus.
Above all, they do this, of course, because of the exciting history of Soweto, which is synonymous with the rebellion of the colourful against the apartheid regime. But above all, Soweto is known for a man: Nelson Mandela. His former dwelling-house at Vilakazi Street 8115 now houses a museum. In 2009, it was renovated and restored to its original state.
Still visible are bullet holes of police balls on the outside wall. Inside there are countless letters, pictures and personal objects of the South African national symbol. In contrast to Nelson Mandela, who now lives in Johannesburg, the second Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Vilakazi Street, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, still lives in his original house, just a few steps from Mandela’s house. However, only a large wall can be seen.
Volunteers outside are also likely to stay at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. It is supposedly the largest hospital in the world – and thus also a duty station on Soweto tours. 3200 beds have it, 6760 employees work here. It is very popular among medical doctors. Where else do they have the possibility to handle shot and stitch wounds on a regular basis? There she is again, the dark side of Soweto.