Soweto City Guide

by Jose Marc Castro on August 17, 2007

Soweto is an urban community in Johannesburg, in the Gauteng province of South Africa. Drawing its name from the abbreviation of “South Western Townships”, Soweto has played a prominent role in the country’s troubled history, having been the center of operations of many anti-apartheid activists including former South African president Nelson Mandela.

Following the dismantling of apartheid in the early 90s, Soweto enjoyed a period of renewed growth and development, and has become a center for culture and entertainment in the country, as well as a popular tourist destination for travelers from all over the world.

Today, some of the most visited attractions in the area are the museums that bear witness to the country’s tumultuous history, among them The Mandela Museum and the newly opened Apartheid Museum.

Residential Places in Soweto

Some of the poorest communities in Johannesburg can be found in Soweto, although many townships do have some wealthier residents. In the years during and immediately after apartheid, many of the community’s local residents live in improvised shanties with little or no access to the basic public services.

All that is changing however, and Soweto has recently emerged from this troubled past to become one of South Africa’s newest economic hubs. Many of its local residents have moved up into the middle and upper class levels of society, and the shift from informal shanty residences to brick houses with all the necessary utilities are an indication of this trend. Some areas of the community–Diepkloof and Pimville in particular–can now be considered high-income areas, and real estate prices have followed suit.

While Soweto residents were previously eager to sell their properties at low prices, the economic growth and its associated increase in property values have made many hesitate. A five-room brick house with a large patio, which would have normally gone for $80,000 only a few years ago, could be worth closer to $90,000 or more in today’s real estate climate.

Hospitals and Universities of Soweto

Soweto is the location of the largest hospital in the world, the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. A 3200-bed hospital that covers 173 acres of land, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is staffed by more than 6,700 doctors and various other health care professionals who service more than two thousand patients every day. Over 50% patients who come to this facility are HIV positive. The hospital is named after a member of the African National Congress and South African Communist Party who was killed during the country’s turbulent history.

There are many other hospitals in and around the Johannesburg area including, Bagleyston Hospital, Garden City Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital, Johannesburg General Hospital, and Marymount Hospital.
The best options for tertiary level education in Soweto can be found in the greater Johannesburg area. Here you can find a number of excellent private and public universities, among them the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Education in Soweto

The University of Johannesburg is a result of the merger of three separate universities, namely: Technikon Witwatersrand, Rand Afrikaans University, and Vista University Johannesburg campus. The university offers students the choice of instruction in either English or Afrikaans.

The University of the Witwatersrand is one of the most respected educational institutions in South Africa, and received the nickname “Moscow on the Hill” for its efforts in resisting many of the apartheid policies.

Commercial Places in Soweto

Just a short distance away from the Mandela museum is the African themed Sakhumzi Restaurant, which serves traditional dishes in a quaint and picturesque garden setting, although indoor seating is available too if you wish. Sakhumzi is located at 6980 Vilakazi St, Orlando West.

Another restaurant that serves local cuisine is Wandie’s Place at Dube Village. Banned by the government during the apartheid years, this charming home-style eatery enjoys a loyal and regular stream of customers today.

Finally, Nambitha: A Taste of Soweto is a place that is a bit higher up on the price range, although it is still very affordably priced. Serving a wide range of both traditional and western style dishes, Nambitha also features an art gallery with impressive works from some of the area’s local artists.

Service Establishments of Soweto

Almost all of the utility services in Soweto–and indeed in much of South Africa–is handled primarily by the Department of Public Enterprises. Under this department are companies such as Eskom, Transnet and Broadband Infraco, which provide the basic public service utilities such as electricity, transportation and broadband Internet connection services respectively.

Eskom is the main provider of electricity supply and distribution services in Soweto, and they supply 95% of the electricity needs of the entire country. Eskom provides these services at significantly lower rates than other electricity supply companies in other countries. The company is also involved in non-regulated electrical services through its Eskom Enterprises (Pty) limited subsidiary. Eskom can be reached at PO Box 1091, Johannesburg, 2000, and you can call them at 011 800 8111. Their website is www.eskom.co.za.

Broadband Internet services in Soweto and all over South Africa is unfortunately quite expensive and this has made the country lag behind in the global arena. Broadband Infraco aims to rectify this situation through its Full Service Network or FSN, which works with both Eskom and Transnet to lower the cost of Internet services. You can reach the company at PO Box 100151, Fourways East, 2055 and by telephone at 011 523 3159. You can also fax them at 086 632 1075 or email the company’s contact person at [email protected].

Embassies in Soweto

All diplomatic concerns and requests for consular assistance while you are in Soweto should be directed to the office of the British High Commission in Pretoria. You can reach them at 255 Hill Street, Arcadia 0002, Pretoria, South Africa or at 256 Glyn Street, Hatfield 0083, Pretoria, South Africa for the consular section. Their telephone numbers are: (27) (12) 421 7500 for the switchboard, (27) (12) 421 7733 for general inquiries, (27) (12) 421 7800 for consular assistance, (27) (12) 421 7801 for passport inquiries, and (27) (12) 421 7802 for Visa inquiries.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: