SOWETO, treasure land of South Africa
It has been said that Vilakazi Street in Soweto, South Africa, is the only street on earth that has been home to two Nobel peace prize winning persons.
Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu for decades, two renowned African leaders who inspired a continent in a time of distress, culminating in the 1994 South Africa’s first multi-racial, democratic election.
Soweto was part of that great story.
The name Soweto was coined from the phrase, ‘South Western Township.’ Soweto is significant for its large reserve of gold.
However more significant is it recognition as the birth place for the struggle against racial discrimination against black men by white men, popularly described as apartheid, in South Africa.
The discovery of gold in Soweto in 1886 drew a lot of workers from all over Johannesburg. Black men who lived in Johannesburg and its environs headed down to the mines in search of better wages.
At the end of the day’s work, these men would go back to their homes in the city of Johannesburg. Relatives and friends of these men who lived in far away towns began coming to Johannesburg in search of mining work, and not long, the city of Johannesburg was spiraling with black men.
At the height of the apartheid government in 1948, the national party, led by white men, began to designate areas specifically for whites and blacks.
The inner city of Johannesburg where these mine workers lived where designated for whites only and as a result, the black mine workers were ejected from the inner city of Johannesburg.
The various towns of diepkloof, doornkop, klipriviersoog, klipspruit and vogelstruisfontein were designated as blacks only in 1956, by the apartheid government, to accommodate the ejected workers from the inner city of Johannesburg.
In 1963, the name Soweto was adopted for the spiraling black population that now occupied these regions.
In the morning of June 16, 1976, about 10,000 black South African students, under a union known as the Soweto students’ representative council (SSRC), took to the streets of Soweto to protest against the government policy to enforce education in Afrikaan language rather than their native black language.
The students who indicated that Afrikaans was a language of the oppressors, chanted songs of solidarity and demanded a revisal in the said educational policy.
The protest was met with strict resistance by the then government in power. The South African police shot directly at the protesting students and at the end of the day 23 persons, 21 of them students had died.
Further violence escalated throughout the night and into the next day. 1500 police men armed with automatic rifles and stun guns were deployed to Soweto on the 17th of June. By the time the violence had subsided, an estimated 176 persons were dead with thousands injured.
A public holiday is celebrated on this day every year in South Africa while the African union, AU, adopted the 16th of June as the international day of the African child in commemoration of the death of the Soweto students.
Although the uprising was quelled, the relative peace prior to June 1976 was shattered and the quest for independent and social recognition was re-ignited.
Many resistance groups to the apartheid regime began springing up in Soweto. The apartheid government responded by providing electricity to more homes in Soweto. However, that was not enough, the people wanted total emancipation.
Various international organizations were outraged by the killings of students and supported the then African National Congress, ANC, which became stronger and spoke with a louder voice.
The ANC banked on the support it got and printed leaflet, demanding for independence and the release of Nelson Mandela.
By the year 1990, the various reforms introduced by the apartheid government to placate the situation failed. The then president began negotiations to end the apartheid regime.
The first democratic presidential multi-racial election held in South Africa in 1994, and Nelson Mandela was declared the winner under the African National Congress party.
For the largely peaceful efforts of Nelson Mandela in helping end racial discrimination against blacks, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize together with Frederik Willem de Klerk in 1993.
In 1983, Bishop Desmond Tutu was awarded a Nobel peace prize for his anti-racial activism. He also headed the peace and reconciliation committee which was instrumental in resolving issues that arose during the transition period.
Fast forward to this present day, Soweto has become a pilgrimage spot for tourist and foreigners in South Africa, a living memory to the sacrifice of Africa’s heroes past.
But the journey has just begun.
Africa is in dire need of a just and prosperous society. We must rebuild the waste cities, give our children a voice and make the continent the land of promise. God bless Africa.