10 New Discoveries in Soweto

As mentioned previously, I spent 72 hours in Soweto as part of a campaign promoting the Soweto Wine Festival. It was an epic journey.

Before this trip I thought I knew Soweto, kind of. I’d been there a lot, doing a lot of different things. But #72HrsSoweto held many surprises. Almost everything we did over the course of the weekend was new (or at least partially new) to me.

Here are ten new things I did during our #72hrsSoweto weekend.

1) The Soweto Hotel

The Soweto Hotel, the only 4-star hotel in Soweto, is on Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown. If this hotel were anywhere else it would feel like any Holiday Inn. But the Soweto Hotel’s location makes it special.

Kliptown is the oldest and most historic township in Soweto, and still one of the most disadvantaged. There’s a bustling market right below the hotel that provides excellent people-watching, as well as a monument and museum honoring the Freedom Charter. Staying there is an experience.

03 Soweto-Hotel-room

My room at the Soweto Hotel.

02a Kliptown-sunset

Sunset over Kliptown, from my balcony at the Soweto Hotel.

2) The Soweto Wine Festival

I’d been hearing about the Soweto Wine Festival for years, but it had never occurred to me to go because I didn’t associate Soweto with wine. But this was a super-fun event and there was a lot more to it than wine.

The festival was packed with people and there was great local music, food, and crafts in addition to top-notch South African wine. I’ll be back next year.

22 Cape-Point-pour

Pouring Chardonnay.

27 Urban-Village-Lerato

The Urban Village, one of the great bands that played at the festival.

37 Kofifi-blue-car

These classic car enthusiasts, part of a group called the Kofifi Movement, were the coolest people at the festival. 

38 Kofifi

One more Kofifi shot.

3) Dinner at Soweto Backpackers

I’d been to Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers once before when I did their Soweto cycling tour. But I’d never hung out there in the evening. We had dinner at the backpackers and there was such a lively, welcoming vibe there, even on a rainy Thursday night.

04 Lebos-music

Impromptu live music at Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers.

05 Lebos-Black-Label

The entertaining singer/guitarist, whose name I didn’t get.

4) Regina Mundi Church

Regina Mundi, which means “Queen of the World” in Latin, is the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa. It’s awe-inspiring. I’ve been meaning to visit the church for years and I’m so happy that I finally got the chance on this trip. (Thanks to Nokuthula and her team at So We Too for taking us there.)

10 Regina-Mundi-outside

Regina Mundi.

12 Regina-Mundi-inside

The church seats 2000 people comfortably but has been known to fit up to 5000.

11 Regina-Mundi-Danny

Danny, our tour guide at Regina Mundi.

5) June 16 Memorial Acre

The June 16 Memorial Acre is a new memorial to the 1976 Soweto Uprising, located adjacent to Morris Isaacson High School in White City. We only visited the memorial briefly, and we were all so cold (it was truly frigid that day) that it was difficult to take in all the historical placards and public art. But the Memorial Acre tells a fascinating story and I don’t think many people know about it. It’s at the corner of Mputhi and Pula Streets.

13 June-16-Memorial-Acre

The June 16 Memorial Acre, which houses the June 16 Memorial and Youth Institute.

15 June-16-display

There were many beautiful murals and things to read but I was too cold stay outside for long.

6) Magwinya

According to Google:

Magwinya are the township version of vetkoek. Vetkoek (pronounce ‘Fet-cook’ and literally means ‘fat cake’) is a uniquely South African deep fried bread.

[SIDE NOTE: I was mercilessly teased on Twitter for referring to magwinya as “fried bread”. Now I see that Google agrees with me! Ha.]

I’ve had vetkoek many times but never magwinya. It’s served at roadside eateries in Soweto, with processed cheese and fried polony (the South African version of bologna). Delicious.

16a Fat-Cakes

Magwinya.

7) The Soweto Theatre

I still haven’t been to a performance at the massive Soweto Theatre, a beautiful venue with avant-garde architecture. But we did make a brief stop there for a photoshoot.

16b Soweto-Theatre-jump

Natalie and Keenan, jumping in front of an artsy wall inside the Soweto Theatre.

 8) Orlando Towers

I did not bungee-jump from the top of the iconic Orlando Towers; it was too cold and there wasn’t enough time. But we rode the elevator to the top and took pictures, which was awesome.

19 Orlando-Towers-from-above

View from the top of Orlando Towers.

9) The Eyethu Cinema

This historic movie theatre is next to the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre. I love exploring old buildings so the cinema was a highlight. Unfortunately the theatre has fallen into disrepair but it could be turned into something amazing. I have high hopes.

23a Eyethu-Theatre

The Eyethu Cinema. Here’s an interesting blog post about the building’s history.

24 Andy-in-theatre

Inside the theatre. 

10) Cycling without gears: Fixin Diaries

Gear-less bicycles — or “fixies” — are uber-fashionable right now, especially in Soweto. As an old-fashioned cyclist accustomed to 24 gears at my disposal, I always thought fixies were a bit silly.

Then I took a ride through Soweto with Fixin Diaries, a company in Pimville that builds customized bikes and organizes group rides. I loved my super-light, single-gear bike and had the most amazing time riding it through the townships. (Fortunately we didn’t have to ride up any hills.)

The ride was my favorite part of the weekend after our incredible night at Trackside.

29 Cycling-Heather

Me and my single-gear bike (technically not a fixie because it has brakes).

32 Cycling-Andy

Andy. (Don’t worry Mom, I didn’t ride like this.)

34 Cycling-Natalie

Natalie. We all loved this ride so much.

I’m always amazed by how many Joburgers I meet who have never been to Soweto. I don’t want to sound preachy, but…Please, people. There is a whole world to explore in Soweto and it’s right here. Choose one of the things on this list and go do it. Or just drive to Vilakazi Street (Soweto’s biggest tourist attraction, which I haven’t even mentioned in this post) and walk around. You’re missing out.

For a few more photos from the weekend, check out this little video I put together (with Ray‘s help) about #72hrsSoweto. I recorded the music during the Urban Village performance at the festival:

My stay in Soweto was courtesy of Gauteng Tourism, in association with the Soweto Wine Festival and Destinate. Opinions expressed are my own.

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11 Comments

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson September 18, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Looks like you had an awesome time, I just love Soweto.

    • Reply 2summers September 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      It was so insanely fun!

  • Reply Roxanne Reid September 18, 2015 at 11:02 am

    Wish I’d seen those dresser-uppers with their classic cars. Sooo cool.

    • Reply 2summers September 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      I know, I could have spent all day photographing them.

  • Reply Sine September 18, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    Great list! You know, what strikes me again and again when I read your blog, is how much South Africa (in this case, the city of Joburg, or is it even more narrowly the township of Soweto?) is investing in the promotion of tourism. And in a really smart way, inviting instagrammers and bloggers on these weekend explorations. It’s always easy to bash South Africa for all that is wrong, but this tourism promotion business seems to be something that is done extremely well.

    • Reply 2summers September 18, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Definitely. Using bloggers and Instagrammers to promote tourism destinations is a worldwide phenomenon and SA has definitely gotten on board. This particular campaign received support from Gauteng Tourism, the Soweto Wine Festival, South African Tourism, and a private destination marketing organization (the new acronym is DMO) called Destinate. I’m lucky to be around while this is happening! I’ll tag you in an article about it on Facebook.

  • Reply Expatorama September 20, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    I love that you always go a bit further than the average writer and see just that little bit more. I’ve been to the bottom of the Soweto cooling towers, you’ve been to the top. I’ve been to Soweto for the day, you’ve been for the night. Kudos to you. I’m also slightly obsessed by the ghostly Eyethu theatre. So much potential…do they do crowdfunding here?

    • Reply 2summers September 20, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      Haha, well I’m fortunate in that exploring places like this has now become my job, so I’m at an unfair disadvantage ? We do have crowdfunding here I think…

  • Reply Firefly - Jonker October 1, 2015 at 10:27 am

    I got to go on the normal bus tour stopping at Hector Pieterson and Mandela House last year, but I’m yearning to do the real Soweto like this. Wish more tour companies would do this and not just the look out the window bus tour.

    • Reply 2summers October 6, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      I would recommend trying the red bus extension next time. The route we did isn’t exactly the same as the normal red bus route but I was really impressed with the guides.

  • Reply Top Travel Recommendations for 2016 | The Good Holiday January 16, 2016 at 12:50 am

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