My Soweto: A tour into SA's most popular township

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
By: 
Amukelani Chauke

“I started playing football in the dusty streets of Soweto”, is often what most soccer players say when they are asked about where they grew up – often with a sense of pride.

And that is how Soweto has become known to Johannesburg residents who have never visited the township, or made an effort to visit it.  

So much that many tourist operators have started to take advantage of Soweto’s rich heritage and are aggressively marketing the area – from its historic landmarks like the Orlando Tours, the Hector Peterson Memorial to activities such cycling and eating magwinya (vetkoeks) from a popular spaza shop in the hood.

Kgomotso Pooe, one of Soweto’s newest entrepreneurs, took a plunge, and together with his brother Suping, they quit their day jobs and invested all their savings in their new outdoor adventures business.

Pooe said together with his brother, he decided that on top of selling a unique township experience, he would introduce quad biking – an outdoor adventure that has never been tested in a township that has only embraced netball and soccer as popular past times.

“When I started the business, which is quad biking in Soweto, I remember people in the precinct that shared it with me told their staff members that I would be out of business in six months.

“And here I am two years nine months later, and I am breaking ground daily, bringing new things to kasi yaka (my township), which is very important to me,” Pooe said in an interview with SAnews.

Soweto Outdoor Adventures

Only 33-years-old, Pooe, who co-owns the Soweto Outdoor Adventures and is breaking new ground, is one of the area’s youngest entrepreneurs to hold a bull by its horns and try out new ways of attracting tourists to the township – also through activities like go-karting and paintballing.

And that is what Pooe thought was missing from any Soweto tours – activities. And what didn’t sit particularly well with Pooe was that most people from townships often left the township on weekends and went to other areas when they wanted to quad bike.

“Soweto’s got a population of anything from three million people. If you have got such a population of people always leaving the township to go do something else somewhere else, then we are losing a market of people that could be basically your target market to give them activities,” he said.

And that is how it started. Pooe found a piece of land behind the Power Park cooling towers, popularly known as the Orlando Towers, where he started with a reception with gazebos to a proper building with lounge areas equipped with pool tables while you wait for your turn to quad bike.

Quad biking prices range from R200 to R1250.

SoWeToo minibus tour

Pooe also offers visitors with an informative tour of Soweto’s history on his SoWeToo minibus tour into the township, where visitors also taste a few African cuisines.

So his SoWeToo minibus tour starts with a drive from Gold Reef City past properties owned by the Crown Mines, where you will be told how Johannesburg started off as a mining camp during the famous 1886 gold rush. I joined the tour upon invitation from the Gauteng Tourism Authority.

As the bus went past Riverlea in Southern Johannesburg – where the first gold-bearing reef was discovered late in the 19th century - Linda Jabane, who was our tour guide on the day, told us that there are 382 mine dumps around Johannesburg.

The bus then drove past the 94000-seater FNB Stadium, which hosted the opening and closing games for the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup games. Today, the stadium hosts some Bafana Bafana games and the popular Orlando Pirates versus Kaizer Chiefs Soweto derby.

Pooe’s minibus then drove past Diepkloof in Soweto, where Jabane then showed us mansions belonging to the township’s most famous residents. This included a 24-room house belonging to the Orlando Pirates football club chairperson Dr Irvin Khoza and a 38-room home belonging to the President of AFM International President and former director general in the Presidency Frank Chikane. Jabane estimated the home to be worth R70-million.

Before we reached Orlando East, he told us that Soweto has a total of 38 suburbs and extensions and has an estimated population of between 2.3 to 3.5 million. In Orlando East, the first stop was at a kitchen that sells pap and skopo or inyama yentloko (slang for meat from the cow’s head), before we were taken to a tuck shop that sells magwinya (vetkoeks).

After washing the fat from our hands, the minibus then took us to the Hector Peterson Memorial in Orlando West, situated along Khumalo Street. The museum is located two blocks from where Peterson, who was 13-years-old at the time, was killed by security police during the 1976 June 16 uprisings. Peterson is the child that was carried by 18 year-old Mbuyisa Makhubo in a famous photograph that was snapped by photographer Sam Mzima – an image that exposed the brutality of the apartheid government to the world.

Down the street from the Museum, the bus then took us to Vilakazi Street, a street where two Nobel Prize winners Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and former President Nelson Mandela once lived, before stopping at a shebeen called The Shack, where we were treated to unqombothi – a traditionally brewed beer made from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water.

Afterwards, we reached our final destination – Sakhumzi Restaurant along Vilakazi Street, where an African cuisine buffet was served – ranging from rice with beef stew to mogodu (tripe).

As the Johannesburg sun set in the horizon, kids continued to play in the streets of Soweto – their home – while many other residents made their way back to their homes after a day at the office. There are many other activities that lie in store in Soweto. Visit Soweto Outdoor Adventures website for a fun-filled educational tour, teambuilding adventures like paintballing and quad biking, amongst others, and chose your preferred package. Know your Soweto.

Pooe recently won the Gauteng Aspiring Youth in Tourism Award for his efforts and contribution of taking tourism to Soweto.

Contrary to what soccer players always say, the streets of Soweto are no longer dusty. As Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane recently said: “You can drive your 7-series into Soweto any day and your car will come out spotless because there are so many carwashes and chesa nyama (braai spots) to choose from”. – SANews.gov.za