The changing face of Soweto

Once a dusty, dry and forgotten dormitory for South Africa’s “city of gold”, Soweto is staking its claim to Johannesburg’s riches.

The Orlando Towers have become a main attraction in Soweto, mainly for the extreme-sports activities taking place there. (Image: South African Tourism Flickr)

Brand South Africa Reporter

Once a dusty, dry and forgotten dormitory for South Africa’s “city of gold”, Soweto is staking its claim to Johannesburg’s riches. At the same time, it is becoming a vibrant, sustainable and economically active city in its own right.

Street hawkers unpacking their stock on the side of the road, pedestrians walking to and from work, taxis hooting for passengers and schoolchildren laughing as they walk to school – this is a typical morning in Soweto.

Over the years, Soweto has risen from the apartheid era rubble to being one of South Africa’s main tourist destinations. The township has transformed; once consisting of mainly matchbox houses and dusty roads, today it has middle class and even upper class housing.

A number of high-rise buildings, malls and shopping centres can also be spotted, another feature that contributes greatly to the changing look of the area.

The streets are tarred and most households have access to running water and electricity. Yet a united community is still embraced, and the principle “it takes a whole village to raise a child” is still applied in many parts.

And there is a concerted effort to green the once dusty brown area. According to the City of Joburg’s Region D manager for programmes and strategy, Lali Mohlabane, in the last financial year, three mini-parks in Naledi, Meadowlands and Freedom Park were built.

Lufhereng

Development is keeping pace. Progress is steadily being made on the Lufhereng project, a mixed-use, mixed-income township situated west of Dobsonville. Already, families have moved into more than a thousand RDP houses. Once complete, it is expected to yield 24 500 homes, with schools, clinics, sports fields and recreational amenities making up a sustainable community.

The project will include a significant component of urban agriculture, through small-scale intensive urban agriculture open-field plots, hydroponic farming units and fish breeding schemes.

Soweto Theatre

Meanwhile, 30% of construction is completed on the long-awaited Soweto Theatre in Jabulani, the first of its kind for a South African township. When complete, the theatre will comprise a 420-seat main venue with an end stage, furnished with wings and buttresses; two smaller venues of 180 and 90 seats; an indoor foyer serving all three venues; multilevel change rooms; storage rooms; and a greenroom.

“We are expecting it to be finished by November this year, if all goes according to plan,” Mohlabane said. “The theatre will provide job opportunities for artists, actors, waiters and waitresses and cleaning staff.”

The building of the Soweto Theatre is part of a fully fledged business and residential node planned for the suburb of Jabulani, which will include cluster homes, a technikon and a fire station.

The precinct will have a R320-million shopping mall, the 300-bed Jabulani Provincial Hospital, and a residential area with three- to five-storey walk-up apartment blocks. Unit prices are expected to range between R300 000 and R500 000.

Orlando Ekhaya

In 2010, Heroes Bridge was completed at Orlando Ekhaya, a complex under construction in the Sowetan suburb of Power Park. The complex will take up 300 hectares of land, consisting of 30 000 square metres of retail and office space, in the possible seven floors to be created in the power station building. Some 60ha of land is to be allocated to conservation space.

There are to be three levels of shops and restaurants within the old power station, with a townhouse complex behind it, and a bird sanctuary and a walkway around the dam, with jetties for water sports.

The development will link the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto Campus across the road, in particular with the distinctive koppies behind the main campus, where trails are laid out.

Other developments in the region include an emergency shelter in Tladi, and Rea Vaya, the flagship Bus Rapid Transit public transport system.

“Rea Vaya came and changed the whole aesthetic structure of Soweto,” Mohlabane said. “The people are really using the buses so we cannot complain in that regard.”

Soweto is also home to the world’s biggest hospital, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Diepkloof. In addition, there are a number of provincial hospitals and City clinics. There are two private clinics, Tshepo-Themba Clinic in Meadowlands and Lesedi Clinic in Diepkloof.

And there is the four-star Soweto Hotel on Freedom Square in Kliptown and a number of bed-and-breakfasts. Along the famous Vilakazi Street, there are well-known restaurants, including Nambitha and Sakhumzi.

Challenges

Though the region continues to make significant progress, there are still minor issues that are a continual thorn in the side of its administrators, including: illegal dumping, decaying buildings, blocked sewages and rehabilitation of streets.

“To a large extent, communities are to blame for not using properly the equipment that the City has entrusted them with,” Mohlabane said. “Take illegal dumping, for an example; there really is no reason for it, because each household was given a 340-litre bin and our people from Pikitup collect waste on a weekly basis without fail.”

Soweto – Johannesburg’s Region D – comprises of a number of suburbs, including: Diepkloof, Meadowlands, Freedom Park, Devland, Naturena, Meredale, Dobsonville, Greater Soweto and parts of Protea Glen. Dominating languages in the region are Zulu, Xhosa, seSotho and Tswana.

According to Mohlabane, a large part of Soweto’s economy is informal. “A lot of people in this area who are unemployed operate some kind of informal businesses from their homes or street corners.”

Source: City of Johannesburg

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