Did you know?
Soweto is the only place in the world where 2 Nobel peace laureates - Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - lived on the same street.
A Soweto township tour is a must-see for the visitor wanting to understand the freedom struggle.
The discovery of diamonds and gold in the late 19th century caused many South African blacks living in independent chiefdoms to head for the gold and diamond rush villages. By 1899 none lived this way and as a consequence they lost their freedom, lands and ability to support themselves independently.
A township tour of Soweto explains the history of how many black people gravitated to the cities, especially Johannesburg, where they were housed in single-sex hostels attached to mines and factories. Some lived in multi-racial slums just north of Fordsburg, infamous for their poor living conditions.
But it was not the health risks so much as different groups 'living on friendly terms' that concerned the authorities. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1904 gave the excuse to burn down the 'location' of Nancefield and remove the 1 358 black residents 13 kilometres from Johannesburg to Klipspruit, which would later become Pimville and eventually Soweto.
By law, no blacks were permitted to live in Johannesburg after the founding of this South Western Township (Soweto), situated in the bowl of the municipal sewage works (cynically chosen because it was the one piece of land that would be of no interest to whites). It expanded rapidly, attracting a range of people.
Over the next 90 years it became the focal point of black urban culture and the struggle for freedom. Now you can experience the vibe and history with a Soweto township tour.
But a short tour is not the best way to appreciate all it has to offer. It is so much better to take a Soweto tour that includes an overnight stay. Then you can visit the struggle sites, after which you can sample the vibrant social scene and thrumming nightlife.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Soweto is well sign-boarded from the highways leading southwest from Johannesburg, but it's recommended you take an organised tour.
Best time to visit
Tours of Soweto can be done at any time of year.
Around the area
The Apartheid Museum is nearby and should be included as part of a Soweto township tour (adjacent is Gold Reef City for entertainment purposes). For the adventurous there's the Orlando Towers bungee to try out…
What will it cost
Cost depends on which tour operator you choose. Most are priced moderately by modern standards. Some are downright cheap.
Length of stay
Half-day and 1 day tours depending on your interests, if you stay overnight, you can explore the area in more depth over 2 days.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes or boots. And don't forget the camera.
Where to stay
Soweto has a range of accommodation options from home-stays to B&Bs, guesthouses and a 4-star luxury hotel.
What to eat
There are a number of good restaurants, mostly on Vilikazi Street, where you should try local specialities like tripe, mogodu (wild spinach), samp and beans and ting (a Tswana starch dish).
Soweto hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, ask your tour operator what's on. And don't miss the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial or the Nelson Mandela Museum.
Invest in any of the cheap, but well-made local arts and crafts found at the markets or on the streets.