1 November 2007
More than 50 years after the Freedom Charter was signed, Soweto’s Kliptown is once again the focus of much attention. Setting the trend for other townships in South Africa, it is about to enter a new era in its history with the opening of its first-ever hotel.
Holiday Inn Soweto opened its doors to the public on 1 November. Situated at Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, a tourist draw card, in Soweto’s oldest suburb, the four-star hotel offers accommodation at an international standard to the more than 200 000 tourists who visit the township every year.
This was not merely a 2010-focused initiative, confirmed George Phefo, the hotel’s general manager. In time, the group hopes to do more for the neighbourhood. “We are looking beyond 2010. We believe there are opportunities for Soweto.”
Jazz and politics
In addition to its location on a world-famous national heritage site, the hotel overlooks the informal market in Union Street and Jada’s place, the house in which Nelson Mandela was hiding when the Freedom Charter was drawn up on 26 June 1955. It plans to give tourists the opportunity to explore the Kliptown of the 1950s.
“We will deliver on the Holiday Inn promise but also bring the political and historical stories into focus,” confirmed Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, the chief executive of the Zatic Group, or the Zuka Afrika Tourism and Investment Corporation, at the hotel’s inauguration. Zatic holds the franchise and a 30-year contract with the Intercontinental Hotel Group to manage the hotel.
The decor is a mix of Kliptown history and African township – gogo blankets, Alf Khumalo photographs, vintage radiograms. With an eclectic blend of the modern and the old, private rooms and public areas offer style and comfort, without the visitor feeling removed from the real Soweto on the doorstep.
Interior designer Fanie Makhanya said the brief was to take the uniqueness of Kliptown and modernise the application.
Half a century ago, on 26 June 1955, more than 3 000 representatives of resistance organisations and ordinary people made their way through police cordons to gather on a dusty square in Kliptown, 40 kilometres south of Johannesburg.
It was the Congress of the People, held to draw up the Freedom Charter, an alternative vision to the repressive policies of the apartheid state. At the time, Nelson Mandela was in hiding to avoid the police. On the second day, authorities broke up the illegal gathering, but by then the charter had already been adopted as a guiding document. It remains the cornerstone of ANC policy to this day and is seen by many as the foundation of South Africa’s 1996 Constitution.
And the Zatic Group is determined to have as many locals benefit from the project as possible. At least 80 percent of the workforce comes from small, medium and micro enterprises based in Soweto.
There will be about 40 permanent employees at the hotel, and numerous opportunities will be created through procurement of services from businesses based in Soweto, including sourcing fresh produce from traders.
“We want to procure as much as possible from our immediate surroundings,” said Steven Bagg, the director of the Zatic Group.
In another move to improve conditions on the ground, the group has spoken to Deputy President Phumzile Mlambu-Ngcuka about funding for the hospitality clinics it wants to offer to local matriculants.
“Above all, our job will be to train young people from this community who want to enter the hospitality sector,” Sangweni-Siddo confirmed.
The local bed-and-breakfast industry was also bound to benefit, Bagg pointed out. Foreigners would take comfort from the globally recognised brand, leading to an increase in the number of visitors to the area. “This is a step up for Soweto.”
Initial discussions with local tour operators and African curio artists have also taken place.
Holiday Inn Soweto is owned by Freedom Square Hotel, a consortium of leading business and leisure shareholders. Built at a cost of R23,4-million, it forms part of the Walter Sisulu Square mixed-use precinct initiated by the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC).
The Kliptown project comprises the hotel, the recently opened Kliptown Museum, retail, restaurant and office space as well as an informal trading area. The JPC has signed a 10-year lease with empowerment group Zatic Hotels and Resorts to operate the hotel. Capello, the restaurant chain, plans to open a restaurant on the square soon.
The Holiday Inn Soweto has 48 rooms, including two suites, the Oliver R Thambo and Chief Albert Luthuli suites; two executive boardrooms, the Winifred Mandela and Helen Joseph rooms; the Jazz Maniacs restaurant and Rusty’s cocktail bar, which is named after Rusty Bernstein, who assisted with the drafting of the Freedom Charter.
Families are catered for in the 10 inter-leading rooms. The passages are called The Long Walk to Freedom – it is indeed a very long passage – and Unsung Heroes.
The hotel is easily accessible from the Golden Highway and, with additional policing and security, the safety of guests and visitors is ensured. The luxury rooms cost R1 500 per person for one night, bed and breakfast. Deluxe suites cost R2 700 per night.
For reservations, contact Holiday Inn Soweto on 0800 999 136.
Source: City of Johannesburg