Although many have probably heard of a community called “Soweto” from accounts of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s lives, its history and other important occurrences within it remain cloaked by the shadows of mystery, especially for those living outside the locality.
Soweto: How It Came to Be
In the middle of the bohemian city of Johannesburg and its gold-mining industry is an urban settlement called Soweto. The place’s name itself reflects the provocative manner at how the township came to be.
According to South African History, SOWETO is an acronym that stands for South West Townships.
In 1959, Non-European Affairs Chairman William Carr commenced the naming of the town that served as a temporary settlement for the black residents of Johannesburg.
At the time, Carr launched a competition wherein participants are given a chance to name the township based on its collective nature since it will be housing people from different towns southwest of Johannesburg. Filled with enthusiasm for the contest, citizens responded with their name ideas, which included KwaMpanza, which means “Mpanza’s place.”
Since the suggestion was a way of protesting Johannes squatter leader James Mpanza’s hand at causing the segregation of black residents from their white neighbors, the City Council opted for a less controversial name instead: SOWETO.
Heidi Holland on Soweto and Racism
For a time, the town’s name even became common knowledge around the world after the 1976 uprising involving Soweto students, two of whom died after being shot at by local law enforcement, according to Michigan State University’s Overcoming Apartheid website. Heidi Holland (journalist and author) wrote about the town. She decided that it was time to reveal the real face of Johannesburg in South Africa through her book Born in Soweto: Inside the Heart of South Africa.
However, Soweto has always been a center for racism in Johannesburg even before all these transpired. Its creation alone exudes an exceptionally high level of racism in the city as the “white” government opted to separate the “blacks” from the community.
During the 1930s, the township was created as a cordon sanitaire, or “sanitary corridor,” per 1923’s Urban Areas Act. To make matters worse, the town’s occupants were only given temporary residence up until 1976 as they were considered as mere servants for Johannesburg.
It is considered the biggest Black city in South Africa that also gained international fame during the Apartheid era for filthy streets, unsteady homes, and the violence that brought sorrow and spite among its residents.
Because of this, Heidi Holland opted to reveal the lowdown on the South Western Townships in Born in Soweto with the help of residents who live there who willingly shared their thoughts about their hometown. At one point, the Rhodesian journalist and author revealed that even those living in Soweto consider it as an awful place to live in.
Soweto’s Shot at Fame: The Uprising Against Apartheid
Maybe because of its history and how it came to be, Soweto couldn’t rid of conflict within its society. In fact, it has become popular for all the wrong reasons, two of which you probably heard of: the uprising against apartheid.
According to History, the apartheid, a system of institutionalised racial segregation, was first introduced in South Africa in 1948 when the reign of the National Party began. Although the supremacy of white citizens in the country had been widely accepted, the fragile balance in society was tipped with the introduction of apartheid policies.
Under their reign, the National Party not only separated non-white citizens physically but also restricted their chances of progressing in livelihood by making it unlawful for them to serve as sharecroppers.
Then, in 1950, the South African rule decided that it wasn’t right for white people and other races to engage in interracial sexual contact and marriage.
Using the Population Registration Act, the government effectively segregated citizens of the nation under three classifications: the black Africans called “Bantu,” the coloured or mixed race, and the whites. There were also cases when the law required families to break apart.
The youth were also forced into following this segregation after the government enacted the Bantu Education Act in 1953. This gave birth to the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), according to the NGO Pulse.
After more than two decades of appealing for better, if not equal, opportunities for black students, they decided to take matters into their own hands by joining the Uprising on June 16, 1976. Using their native tongue, Afrikaans, the radical youth took to the streets carrying placards that reflect their grievances in a march that was supposed to conclude in Orlando Stadium.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned. Armed with guns and tear gas, local authorities blocked their way and, eventually, stopped the rallyists from setting foot to the stadium.
Following news about this occurrence in Soweto, the rest of the country followed suit and the Anti-Apartheid Movement and other groups opposing racial segregation, overpowered the National Party with Nelson Mandela at the helm.