Soweto

As a child I learned of Soweto from seeing it on the news.  It is known for its uprisings and as the home of Nelson Mandela (Winnie still lives there, but Nelson now lives in a suburb of Johannesburg).  I had always thought of it as a neighborhood or a suburb, but with a population of over 1,300,000, it could be a city in its own right.  Although Soweto is large, it is densely populated.

I couldn’t imagine going to South Africa and not seeing something that played such a pivotal role in its history. I prepared myself to see extreme poverty.  In addition to poverty, I saw a large, culturally and economically diverse community.

On June 16, 1976, students peacefully marched from schools to Orlando Stadium in Soweto.  They protested the teaching of Afrikaans in schools. South Africa has 10 official languages and Afrikaans was strongly associated with Apartheid.
Phefeni Junior Secondary School was the start for one of the routes students took on the peaceful march to Orlando Stadium (yes, like the Orlando Pirates mentioned in the Kliptown post) below.  Soweto’s schools were underfunded and of poor quality.  They were severely overcrowed with more than 60 or more students per teacher and many of the teachers had no qualifications.
Police opened fire on student protesters while they were en route.  Their shots killed 16 year old, unarmed, Hector Peterson.  Photos* of a dying Hector Peterson traveled around the world and shocked the international community.  June 16, 1976 is remembered for the police’s brutality against schoolchildren and the subsequent uprisings.
This statue depicts the schoolchildren facing off with policemen with dogs, the point just before the police opened fire.
Vilakazi Street (note the name on the curb) the street where Hector Peterson died.  It is also the only street to have given rise to two, separate nobel prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu).

In the days after June 16, students (including whites who expressed solidarity) were imprisoned and tortured.  Police moved in with force and were met by an angry community.  Violence escalated into riots.

The massive Soweto uprisings soon spread to other parts of the city and country.  Apartheid was not abolished until 1991.

The Freedom Charter Memorial in the heart of Soweto commemorates the June 26, 1955  Freedom Charter that is the cornerstone of African National Congress policy and served as the foundation for the new constitution.
 
These are the cooling towers of the now defunct Orlando power station in Soweto.  When this was working all of the power went  on the lines out of the area.  The pollution remained.  Now, you can bungee jump from them.
*Hector Peterson was not the first child to be shot and killed by police that day.  The immediate aftermath of his shooting was, however, the first to be caught on camera.  Hastings Ndlovu was actually the first student killed.  Hundreds more students sustained injuries.
 
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One thought on “Soweto

  1. Pingback: Planes, Trains and Automobiles to South Africa | schwingeninswitzerland

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