|Population nearly 1,300,000 People|
The history of South African townships south west of Johannesburg that would later form Soweto was propelled by the increasing eviction of Black South Africans by city and state authorities. Black South Africans had been drawn to work on the gold mines that were established after 1886. From the start they were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg, such as Brickfields (Newtown). In 1904 British-controlled city authorities removed Black South African and Indian residents of Brickfields to an “evacuation camp” at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm (not Kliptown, a separate township) outside the Johannesburg municipal boundary, following a reported outbreak of plague. Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south west of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 (a renamed part of Klipspruit) and Orlando in 1935.
World War I
Industrialization during World War I drew thousands of black workers to the Reef. They were also propelled by legislation that rendered many rural Black Africans landless. Informal settlements developed to meet the growing lack of housing. The Sofasonke squatter’s movement of James Mpanza in 1944 organised the occupation of vacant land in the area, at what became known as Masakeng (Orlando West). Partly as a result of Mpanza’s actions, the city council was forced to set up emergency camps in Orlando and Moroka, and later in Central Western Jabavu.
Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital
The Imperial Military Hospital Baragwanath, named after Cornishman John Albert Baragwanath, was built in 1941 during the Second World War to serve as a British Military Hospital. John Albert Baragwanath initially owned the situated site as a hostel, The Wayside Inn, until the British Government paid £328,000 to make it a hospital. Field-Marshal Jan Smuts noted during the opening ceremonies that the facility would be used for the area’s black population after the war. In 1947 King George VI visited and presented medals to the troops there. From this start grew Baragwanath Hospital (as it became known after 1948), reputedly the world’s third largest hospital. In 1997 another name change followed, with the sprawling facility now known as Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in honour of the South African Communist Party leader who was assassinated in 1993 by white extremists.
Government policy from 1948
After the Afrikaner-dominated National Party gained power in 1948 and began to implement apartheid, the pace of forced removals and the creation of townships outside legally designated white areas increased. The Johannesburg council established new townships to the southwest for black Africans evicted from the city’s freehold areas of Martindale, Sophiatown, and Alexandra Township. Some townships were basic site and service plots (Tladi, Zondi, Dhlamini, Chiawelo, Senaoane, 1954), while at Dube middle-class residents built their own houses. The first hostel to accommodate migrant workers evicted from the inner city in 1955 was built at Dube. The following year houses were built in the newly proclaimed townships of Meadowlands and Diepkloof.
In 1956 townships were laid out for particular ethnic groups as part of the state’s strategy to sift black Africans into groupings that would later form the building blocks of the so-called “independent homelands”. Spurred by a donation of $6 million to the state by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer in 1956 for housing in the area, Naledi, Mapetla, Tladi, Moletsane and Phiri were created to house Sotho- and Tswana-speakers. Zulu- and Xhosa-speakers were accommodated in Dhlamini, Senaoane, Zola, Zondi, Jabulani, Emdeni and White City. Tshiawelo was established for Tsonga- and Venda-speaking residents.
In 1963, the name Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) was officially adopted for the sprawling township that now occupied what had been the farms of Doornkop, Klipriviersoog, Diepkloof, Klipspruit and Vogelstruisfontein.
Soweto came to the world’s attention on 16 June 1976 with the Soweto Uprising, when mass protests erupted over the government’s policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than English. Police opened fire in Orlando West on 10,000 students marching from Naledi High School Orlando Stadium. The rioting continued and 23 people died on the first day in Soweto, 21 of whom were black, including the minor Hector Pieterson, as well as two white people, including Melville Edelstein, a lifelong humanitarian.
The impact of the Soweto protests reverberated through the country and across the world. In their aftermath, economic and cultural sanctions were introduced from abroad. Political activists left the country to train for guerrilla resistance. Soweto and other townships became the stage for violent state repression. Since 1991 this date and the schoolchildren have been commemorated by the International Day of the African Child.
In response, the apartheid state started providing electricity to more Soweto homes, yet phased out financial support for building additional housing.
Soweto became an independent municipality with elected black councilors in 1983, in line with the Black Local Authorities Act. Previously the townships were governed by the Johannesburg council, but from the 1970s the state took control.
Soweto’s black African councilors were not provided by the apartheid state with the finances to address housing and infrastructural problems. Township residents opposed the black councilors as puppet collaborators who personally benefited financially from an oppressive regime. Resistance was spurred by the exclusion of blacks from the newly formed tricameral Parliament (which did include Whites, Asians and Coloreds). Municipal elections in black, coloured, and Indian areas were subsequently widely boycotted, returning extremely low voting figures for years. Popular resistance to state structures dates back to the Advisory Boards (1950) that co-opted black residents to advise whites who managed the townships.
Further popular resistance: incorporation into the City
In Soweto, popular resistance to apartheid emerged in various forms during the 1980s. Educational and economic boycotts were initiated, and student bodies were organized. Street committees were formed, and civic organizations were established as alternatives to state-imposed structures. One of the most well-known “civics” was Soweto’s Committee of Ten, started in 1978 in the offices of The Bantu World newspaper. Such actions were strengthened by the call issued by African National Congress’s 1985 Kabwe congress in Zambia to make South Africa ungovernable. As the state forbade public gatherings, church buildings like Regina Mundi were sometimes used for political gatherings.
In 1995, Soweto became part of the Southern Metropolitan Transitional Local Council, and in 2002 was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg. A series of bomb explosions rocked Soweto in October 2002. The explosions, believed to be the work of the Boeremag, a right wing extremist group, damaged buildings and railway lines, and killed one person.