Touring Soweto with a South African Blonde

by | Jan 22, 2020 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Johannesburg Day Trips, Soweto, Townships/Informal Settlements | 16 comments

Last week I did an all-day tour of Soweto with Eenblond Tours. “Eenblond” means “a blonde” in Afrikaans, which makes sense because that’s exactly what Gilda Swanepoel is.

Gilda Swanepoel inside one of the Soweto cooling towers.
Gilda inside one of the Soweto cooling towers.

Gilda and I are kindred spirits — we’re the same age and our life stories have many parallels. Gilda spent lots of time traveling solo around southern Africa and used to write a travel blog. She loves getting to know Joburg’s people and cultures in a very intimate way. I’d been meaning to take one of her tours forever and she does lots of different ones, around Joburg and all over South Africa. But I was particularly keen to go to Soweto with Gilda.

I’ve been to Soweto — which is technically part of Joburg but really its own place entirely — countless times (browse all of my Soweto posts here), but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to go again. Soweto is so huge, so historic, and so diverse that no one visit is the same as another, even when you go back to the same places. My tour with Gilda was no exception.

A Day in Soweto

Gilda fetched me at my house and then we went to pick up her other guest, a young Spanish guy named Alex. (I must give Alex a shout-out for traveling all the way to South Africa just to visit Joburg/Gauteng. He didn’t even go to Cape Town or Kruger!) We then proceeded to Kliptown.


Kliptown is the oldest township in Soweto and the birthplace of the Freedom Charter, which later served as the blueprint for South Africa’s constitution. I’d been to Kliptown before but discovered many new things this time around.

The Kliptown market
Gilda walks Alex through Kliptown’s outdoor market, which I had never walked through before even though I’ve walked past it many times.
Bras for sale in Kliptown Market
A rainbow nation of bras.
Mud blocks for sale in Kliptown
Mud blocks for sale outside the market. Apparently pregnant women sometimes crave dirt (!) and gnaw on these to satisfy the craving.

Over the course of the day, Gilda periodically hands her guests over to other guides who provide a more localized picture of Soweto. In Kliptown we walked around with Thulani Mhambi, who I’d met years ago at another Kliptown function but neither of us remembered until later.

Thulani leads us into Kliptown’s residential section. KGB stands for Kliptown Gumbooters in this part of the world. Google gumboot dance to understand why.

We met Bob Nameng, founder of the world-renowned Soweto Kliptown Youth program, and admired the art in his courtyard.

Bob Nameng in Kliptown with Senzo mural
Bob in front of the Senzo mural in his home.

Then we walked around the neighborhood and I was reminded about how much beautiful street art there is in Kliptown — much more than the last time I was there a few years ago.

Street art in Kliptown
I’m not sure who painted this — maybe Falko? — but it’s beautiful. Too bad it’s been defaced.
Painting of Winnie Mandela, Mama Africa
A depiction of Winnie Mandela.
I don’t know who painted this but I’m sure someone will let me know.
Activist Charlotte Maxeke lived in this house in the early 20th century.
Tribute to Charlotte Maxeke
A recently painted tribute to Charlotte Maxeke.
Tailor working hard in Kliptown
A tailor working in the hot sun. I believe the piece above him is by Falko.
Tuck shop in Kliptown
Traditional sign-painting is part of Soweto’s heritage, and as we walked through Kliptown I realized art like this is closely connected to the city’s more modern street art.

We finished our walk through Kliptown with a visit to the Freedom Charter monument in the middle of Kliptown Square.

Inside the Freedom Charter monument
Inside the Freedom Charter monument, the center of which is a pie-shaped depiction of the Freedom Charter’s ten demands.
Together Soweto singing group
Inside the monument we were serenaded by this fantastic a capella singing group, Together Soweto. They sang their own composition of Bob Marley’s One Love.

This post is already long but I haven’t even covered half our Soweto stops yet. Here’s a lightning-round recap of the rest of the day.

Traditional Beer

We headed to Soweto’s Jabavu Township to meet Mpho, a woman who makes umqombothi (traditional South African beer). Umqombothi is a bit sour-tasting for me but I’m sure I’d get used to it if I drank enough.

I only had a small sip. Alex downed a full glass in no time and also finished mine.

Beer-makers in Soweto
Left to right: Unnamed beer-making lady (reminding us alcohol is dangerous), Gilda, Mpho, and Alex.
Men at beer shop
Beer-drinking men.

Native Rebels

Native Rebels is a restaurant/bar/music venue in Jabavu that I’ve been wanting to check out for ages. We only had time for a quick drink on the balcony, but my suspicions were confirmed: This place is seriously cool and I need to go back for a proper meal and some music.

Native Rebels stairway
The stairway to Native Rebels.
Artsy bookshelf and Jaegermeister display in Native Rebels.

Soweto Home Based Care Givers

We made a very quick stop at Soweto Home Based Care Givers, a grass-roots program that provides after-school feeding to schoolchildren. Gilda needed to drop off some seeds for the program’s veggie garden.

Soweto Home Based Care Givers
Soweto Home Based Care Givers.

For more information about the Soweto Home Based Care Givers, please contact Gilda directly or go on her tour (recommended).

Lunch at Aggie’s

We were starving and went for lunch at Aggie’s Restaurant, also in Jabavu. Aggie’s is a classic South African food and watering hole, where we feasted on beef and chicken stew, pap (maize porridge), potato salad, chakalaka (spicy tomato relish), and African spinach.

Lunch at Aggies in Jabavu, Soweto.

Hector Pieterson Memorial and Vilakazi Street

The Hector Pieterson Museum/Memorial and Vilakazi Street, both in Orlando West, are the centers of Soweto’s tourist culture. I have been many times. But our guide, Mlungisi Tsabalala, told the story of the 1976 Soweto Uprising in a uniquely moving way.

Hector Pieterson Memorial
Mlungisi at the Hector Pieterson Memorial.

I learned several new things, such as Benedict Vilakazi was the first black South African to earn a Ph.D., and that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu only lived on Vilakazi Street for 11 days concurrently.

We also watched a performance by Ditsau Tsa Koma, the fabulous Tswana dance troupe that works on Vilakazi Street.

Tswana dancers on Vilakazi Street
Tswana dancers on Vilakazi Street in Soweto
I never, ever get tired of watching traditional South African dance. If you see a dance performance like this happening on Vilakazi Street, don’t worry about looking like a tourist. Park yourself right in front, watch, listen, and take pictures. Then tip these amazing performers well — they deserve it.

Before leaving Vilakazi Street we met “the Sandman” at the corner of Nbakane Street. The Sandman makes Soweto souvenirs using different-coloured sand from nearby mine dumps.

Sandman Soweto souvenirs
I don’t need any more South African souvenirs. But if I did, this is what I would have bought. Contact the Sandman at 060-420-8872.

Soweto Towers

We finished the day at the old Soweto cooling towers in Orlando East. I’ve blogged about the towers many times and I even bungee-jumped off them once. So I will end my narration with this.

Heather and Gilda in Soweto
Inside the cooling tower with my kindred spirit. Photo by Alex.

Gilda’s tour of Soweto costs R1450 (about $100) for the full day, including transport, pick-up and drop-off, lunch, fees for the local guides, admission to Mandela House, and some other inclusions.

My tour was complimentary as a member of the media. All opinions expressed are mine.


  1. dizzylexa

    I rate this as the best tour of Soweto and I’ve been on a few.

    • 2summers

      It’s a great one!

  2. Catrina

    Thank you for this informative and interesting post! I hope to visit Johannesburg one day and do one of Gilda‘s tours. Up to now, my knowledge of SA is limited to Cape Town, but I hope to expand. ????

    • 2summers

      Thank you Catrina! Yes, please expand to Joburg 🙂

  3. AutumnAshbough

    Love the artwork.

    Okay, what is Alex drinking in the beer picture? It does not look like beer.

    • 2summers

      Hahahaha. It’s a totally different kind of beer. Still fermented grain though.

      • AutumnAshbough

        I am fascinated by this creamy looking beer!

        • Peter

          You would love it. Mqombothi is African Traditional beer, usually made of Sorghum and fermented and sometimes filtered before consumption. In some cultures it is fermented for up to 7 -days and is extremely potent at that stage.

          Hope you try it one day.


          • 2summers

            Hopefully Autumn comes to visit us in SA someday. Although I believe she doesn’t drink so we may not be able to convince her to taste it.

  4. Debbie

    Really enjoyed this entry. I plan to check some of the street dancing online. It looks energetic & representative of their culture. I liked the pic of you with your guide. You look “at home.”

  5. Eva Melusine Thieme

    Awesome post. Touring Soweto remains one of my favorite memories of life in Joburg.

    • 2summers

      It’s hard not to have fun in Soweto.

  6. Lani

    I’m convinced this is one of the top ways (if not the best) to visit a new place. The tour sounds so jammed pack. This one’s a gem of a post.


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