Soweto Night Out: A Walk Through South Africa’s History

by | Jun 12, 2024 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Soweto, Tours, Townships/Informal Settlements | 10 comments

Last Thursday evening I went to Soweto with a group of journalists, tourists, and locals, and we did a simple yet revolutionary thing: We walked around at night. The walk was part of a new tourism experience called “Soweto Night Out”, founded by the creator of Funk It I’m Walking.

Walking during the Soweto Night Out
Joburg is extremely dark at night — at least half to two-thirds of the city’s street lights are broken these days, according to my own (totally unscientific) observations — and Soweto is no exception. Hence, many of my photos of the Soweto Night Out look something like this.

Funk It I’m Walking was founded by artist, activist, and Soweto resident Nomsa Mazwai, who wants to make walking safe for women (and all people) at any time and in any condition. Nomsa is also passionate about promoting tourism, entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment in Soweto. As Nomsa explained at the start of our walk, the ability to walk safely and comfortably after dark is essential for all of the above.

Nomsa with Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers guides Tsepho (center) and Linda (right), during the Soweto Night Out. When I arrived on Thursday night I knew I recognized Nomsa from somewhere…I soon realized I recently watched her perform at the Sawubona Music Jam.
Funk It I'm Walking
My friend Bridget initially misread the hashtag as “Funki Tim Walking”, which would also be a cool name for a walking tour.

The Soweto Night Out, Nomsa’s newest initiative, will happen on the first Thursday of every month. Last Thursday’s edition was particularly poignant because it happened during Youth Month, when South Africans commemorate the 1976 Soweto Uprising. (Youth Day is this Sunday, 16 June.) We visited several important historical sites on the walk and were joined by Seth Mazibuko, one of the lead organizers of the Soweto Uprising. Seth was arrested by the apartheid police when he was barely 16 years old, held in solitary confinement for 18 months, and imprisoned for seven years on Robben Island.

The Soweto Night Out

My group caught a shuttle from Rosebank to Soweto and met at Just Badela, a restaurant in Orlando West, at around dinner time. We mingled with the other walkers, had a welcome drink and some surprisingly delicious beef tongue, and eventually set off walking with a group of incredible singers from the Phakama MaAfrica Youth Choir.

Just Badela in Soweto
Outside Just Badela. I really enjoyed the food there.
FunkItImWalking crew
Linda gives a brief introduction to the walk with members of the Phakama MaAfrica Youth Choir in the background. The choir sang throughout the walk and they were fantastic.

We stopped at several historical places along the way, including Winnie Mandela’s former home, the Mandela House Museum, Desmond Tutu’s former home, and “Confrontation Corner” — one of the key sites of the Soweto Uprising.

Walking through Orlando on the Soweto Night Out tour
More walking.
Walking in Soweto
…and more walking. It was fun to play around with the unusual lighting conditions.
Soweto graffiti
Some nighttime graffiti photography.
Nomsa in front of the old Winnie Mandela blanket factory.
Mandela House
Looking out at Vilakazi Street from the Mandela House Museum. I’d been to the museum before but it was fun to visit at night, when — like virtually all tourist attractions in Joburg — it’s usually closed.
Seth Mazibuko addresses the crowd
Seth Mazibuko (left) addresses the crowd at Confrontation Corner, where the apartheid police first fired tear gas at the protesting students in 1976. The action backfired when the teargas actually blew backward onto the police.
Raising fists for students of 1976
Seth asked everyone to kneel and raise their firsts for a moment to commemorate the students who sacrificed their lives in the Uprising. (No one knows exactly how many students died that day, but it was at least 176 and some people put the number as high as 700.) South Africa’s national elections were a week before the walk, hence the Vote ANC sign in the background.

After an invigorating night walk of about four kilometers, we returned to Just Badela for dinner and a Q&A with Seth. As a true Struggle hero who put his life on the line and sacrificed his childhood to fight for freedom in South Africa, Seth is understandably angry — I would even say furious — about the state of the country today. One of the things he said that stood out to me was: “I’m angry because I lost the days of my youth for freedom that is not here.” Sobering words, to be sure, but I’m glad I was there to hear them.

I got so much out of this experience and I would totally do it again. The next Soweto Night Out is on 4 July and will start and end at Native Rebels, one of the coolest music venues in Soweto. Follow @SowetoNightOut on Instagram for information on tickets and how to book — transport from Rosebank will be available.

Group at Soweto Night Out

Thanks to Funk It I’m Walking and Johannesburg In Your Pocket for organizing this media visit.


  1. dizzylexa

    That must be the coolest name for a walking group tour. So glad you got to meet Seth Mazibuko, I’ve met him a couple of times with JHF, such a humbling super person.

  2. Barend van der Merwe


  3. Albert

    Oh wow, what a good initiative.

  4. AutumnAshbough

    The walking program is a great initiative and so right–we should all be able to walk safely. Heartbreaking ending for Seth, though I appreciate you sharing it.

    • 2summers

      Yeah, there’s no sugar-coating that one!

  5. Thea

    A fantastic concept, hope it becomes a “must do” tourist outing. Just wondering whether Hector Peterson’s memorial & role in the Soweto Youth Uprising received any prominence? Also, an indication of the cost?

    • 2summers

      The Hector Pieterson memorial was not a huge part of this particular tour but each tour they do is different. The price of the tour varies between R250 and R950 depending on if you include transport, food, etc.

  6. Lani

    My heart goes out to South Af. I can’t believe how bad it’s gotten – no library, no trash pickup, no lights? I’m glad though to see everyone in solidarity and good spirits. Take care, Heather. xo

    • 2summers

      It is bad but also not that bad, if that makes any sense. The lack of government services is truly enraging but then there are people like Nomsa (and Dennis, from my last post) just carrying on and doing such amazing things…South Africa!


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