12 October 2004

Soweto Centenary

Soweto Township Marks Centenary

South Africa's famous Soweto township marks 100 years since its creation on Tuesday in a mood of optimism far removed from the days of apartheid.

Tens of thousands of Johannesburg's black residents were moved out of the city centre to the new district as the white authorities imposed segregation.

Leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived in Soweto and the riots of the 1970s paved the way for democracy.

Now the area is seen by some as a model of hope for South Africa as a whole.

"Soweto is not a place of doom and gloom - it's a place of hope," local businessman Dan Moyane told the BBC.

"It's a place where some of us come and get inspiration and the way things are at the moment, Soweto in my mind has to form the base of a new future for South Africa."

Tourist destination

Soweto, which is an acronym for Johannesburg's South West Townships, is now home to more than 3.5 million people.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead reports that the area is a vibrant, energetic township where community seems to mean so much more than in Johannesburg's sterile, security-ringed suburbs.

During apartheid, black South Africans were moved to Soweto in their thousands, relocated to a patch of land beyond the city limits when the apartheid government drove deep divisions between black and white.

It became a hotbed of resistance to the government and political activity.

The student riots of 1976 began here and spread across the country, paving the way towards the end of apartheid.

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle was the shooting dead of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson by a policeman in Soweto in June 1976, during a demonstration against the use of Afrikaans as the teaching language in schools.

His death, captured by harrowing photographs seen across the world marked a turning point which finally brought democracy 10 years ago.

Now life is slowly improving for the inhabitants. Water and electricity has been provided for many people, but not all.

In Soweto, as in other townships, thousands of shacks have been cleared away and replaced with solid houses, with proper roadways and street lighting.

There are even some small guest houses, restaurants, small shopping malls with security guards, and a new supermarket.

Thousands of tourists also visit Soweto every year, stopping off at Nelson Mandela's old house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and landmarks where some of the biggest battles against apartheid were fought out.

While Aids and unemployment are still huge problems in Soweto, there is a real feeling of optimism that the next 100 years have good things in store for the sprawling township, our correspondent says.

The authorities say the money raised from events to mark the anniversary will be used to help to improve the township.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/10/12 09:07:36 GMT



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