Botswana’s funny man Bambino will join a line-up of high profile comedians from Soweto to present the Soweto International Comedy Festival.
This event marks the beginning of an international tour by these comedians to share Soweto with the rest of the world. Founded during the mineral revolution in South Africa, Soweto – (acronym for South Western Townships) is a sprawling conurbation of townships in the outskirts of the city of Johannesburg inhabited by predominantly black African people who were forcibly removed from the city centre in places like Sophiatown and Yeoville by the South African apartheid government. The forced removals were conducted to create the city centre for whites only and to populate black people far away from the whites, all in one place, closer to the mines where men provided cheap labour. Women became domestic workers in the city town traveling long distances, for long hours to get to work in the Johannesburg suburbs.
Accommodation in Soweto were houses of similar plans and patterns in the entire township referred to as matchbox houses because of their sheer small size, too small to accommodate the large extended families which characterised the African family setting at the time.
Soweto became the epicentre of revolt against apartheid with political activists such as Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Desmond Tutu and many more residing in Soweto. In 1976, it became the focus of the world with the famous student uprisings that gave birth to the iconic picture of the late Hector Pieterson’s little body lifeless in the arms of Mbuyisa Makhubo with terrified Pieterson’s sister Antoinette Sithole running by their side. Ms. Sithole is works at the Hector Pieterson Museum.
Soweto is also the home of the famous Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (Bara as affectionately known by the Soweto residents and now renamed after the slain apartheid icon Chris Hani). Perekwane, as Baragwanath is referred to by many Batswana was revered for offering the best medical services in the African continent. Ba mo isitse Perekwane, o tla hola. Golo koo kana go na le bongaka tota. (She has been referred to Perekwane, she will be cured. There is great medical assistance there.) Ironically, the very same Batswana were terrified of Soweto because it was portrayed in the news as a place of violence by the white-owned television and radio stations, but a place and symbol of black resistance by the anti-apartheid movements. One wonders whether Batswana knew that Baragwanath is indeed in the heart of Soweto, the ‘notorious’ place they feared the most.
Today’s Soweto is a different place. It has transformed beyond recognition. It is now a buzzing tourist attraction place with dual road networks that carry the Reavaya rapid transport system, electricity, the massive Maponya Mall, Soweto Theatre and two world cup stadiums the FNB Stadium and Olando Stadium. The matchbox houses have been renovated beyond recognition, some into posh double storey buildings. The township’s energy is mainly centred at the world famous Vilakazi Street often referred to as the famous street in the world for having housed two Nobel peace laureates Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The hype of economic activity on Vilakazi Street is incredible. It is busy 24 hours a day: restaurants, stalls, tourists, music, vendors selling exclusive Soweto branded merchandise and proudly South African crafts.
As you can tell from the brief history given above, Soweto has many stories that must the world MUST hear.