Why not plan something different for your year-end function and combine the fun of a corporate get-together with the warmth and soul of Soweto?
Private and corporate groups that have hosted year-end functions in Soweto describe it as an inspiring and uplifting experience. It opens your eyes up the real people of South Africa and exposes you to a unique blend of traditional and modern culture and community spirit.
You have the choice of a traditional Soweto shebeen serving authentic African cuisine for a mid-day function or party late into the night at an upmarket restaurant and nightclub known for its electric buzz and festive atmosphere.
Travel to Soweto with Moafrika Tours in the comfort of a luxury air-conditioned vehicle or experience first-hand travelling in a minibus taxi, otherwise known as a Ses’fikile (Xhosa for “we have arrived’) or a Zola Budd (named after the famous South African Olympics runner).
Before or after your year-end function, visit the iconic sites of Soweto which are the cornerstones of its rich political and cultural heritage. Your personal Moafrika Tours guide was born in Soweto and grew up in an area close to the heart of the historical Vilakazi Street Precinct. His knowledge and tales of struggle, jubilation and heroism will deeply enrich your life and leave you with a profound respect for the Soweteans who fought and died for the freedom they celebrate today.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN SOWETO
Soweto has risen from the ashes of apartheid and the liberation struggle to become a thriving powerhouse in South Africa’s economic landscape. The city is rich in history and traditional culture, and home to some 1.4 million people; about 40% of the population of Johannesburg.
Massive infrastructure development has taken place over the past decade and Soweto now boasts state-of-the art shopping centres, upmarket restaurants and nightclubs and modern amenities. At the same time, Soweto retains much of its rich character; where modern spaces blend into pockets of Soweto that are remnants of the old struggle days. Many of its residents still live in abject poverty while others are reaping the rewards of a city that has found its economic feet.
Meet the Shebeen Queens
Shebeens (local taverns) are a fixture of the Soweto social scene and have evolved to cater for a younger, trendier set of both Black and White patrons and international tourists. A visit to a shebeen in Soweto is an incredible experience; not only is it a chance to soak up the ambience of this vibrant city but it’s also a chance to pause and remember the hardships and oppression Soweteans experienced before they shared the joy of freedom and equality.
During the apartheid era, Soweto residents were prohibited from establishing formal businesses and the Native Act restricted the consumption of “intoxicating” liqueur in townships. Makeshift taverns called shebeens were set up and often served as meeting places for political activists. The word shebeen comes from a combination of the Irish-Gaelic word síbín and the Zulu word shibhile, both meaning ‘cheap’.
The economic effects of the Great Depression were devastating to an increasingly poor and landless rural population, forcing huge numbers of Black people to move to urban areas to seek wage-paying jobs. African women struggled to find work in the formal sector and many resorted to applying their traditional skills to making home-brewed beer. These women became known as “shebeen queens”; making and selling a type of beer known as umqombothi to the migrant labourers.
Shebeens provided these hardworking men a place to relax and socialise, shrugging off the oppression of life under apartheid rule. Despite being illegal, shebeens provided the community with a safe place to express their cultural traditions; enjoying their own music, traditional dancing and authentic food.
Try Mandela’s favourite dish at Wandie’s Place
The most well-known restaurant in Soweto is Wandie’s Place in Dube. The restaurant operates out of a typical Soweto four-roomed house that once was an illegal shebeen that sold food and drink without a license. Today it is a vibey, fun hangout that has hosted the likes of Will Smith, Richard Branson and Chris Rock. Food is served buffet-style and includes local cuisine such as umngqusho, morogo and chakalaka.
Nelson Mandela’s favourite meal was umngqusho. This is samp which is broken dried maize kernels mixed with red beans. Samp is usually boiled in butter and flavoured with butter, onions, potatoes, chillies, lemon juice, salt and oil. The samp is left to simmer on a low heat until all the ingredients are tender.
Wandie’s Place is credited for introducing non-Sowetans to the city where they could experience authentic African cuisine and an exciting city vibe. They started a trend where curious White co-workers – who had never set foot in Soweto – came to Wandie’s Place as a guest of a Black friend for a genuine township experience. The walls of the bar area are plastered with business cards and a quick look at them gives you an idea of how far some people have travelled for a delicious meal at Wandie’s Place.
Enjoy the vibe of Vilakazi Street Precinct
The iconic street is steeped in history but it’s also become one of the most popular destinations for international and local tourists. During the day, the area is inundated with foreign visitors but at night; it’s party time for the locals. The taverns and restaurants in Vilakazi Street Precinct have become institutions and the ideal starting point for a first-time visit to Soweto.
Sakhumzi Restaurant is in Vilakazi Street and is the ideal place to try traditional township cuisine while soaking up the rich historical atmosphere. The restaurant serves up a variety of dishes that includes mogodu (tripe) and ujege (steamed bread).
Restaurant Vilakazi is another hugely popular eatery on this famous street, serving up a menu that is described as “South African fusion food”. Popular dishes such as oxtail stew and samp with butternut and spinach are given a classy twist to cater for foreign taste buds.
Nexdor offers tourists uncomplicated, simple but good quality meals. It is situated in the heart of Vilakazi Street and becomes a thriving nightspot after dark.
Ntsitsi’s Fun Food is one of Soweto’s most famous street stalls. Situated in Diepkloof, it’s famous for its Soweto-style kotas. A kota is a township version of bunny chow; a quarter loaf of bread that is hollowed out and filled with potato fries and Russian sausages or a meat and veggie stew. Ntsitsi has 40 variations of kotas on their menu.
Chaf Pozi is located right below the Orlando Towers. Tourists who have bungee jumped off the towers or just got back from a bicycle ride through Soweto enjoy the relaxed atmosphere with its Soweto-style shebeen décor. Chaf Pozi is famous as a chesa nyama (meat cooked over an open fire) destination.
For finer dining, visit the Jazz Maniacs and Rusty’s Bar at the Soweto Hotel. This restaurant is in a four-star establishment, situated in the middle of the city. The dishes served are a fusion of traditional African and modern Western cuisine. Walk-in customers are welcome and their food prices are very reasonable, even though it’s a rather posh restaurant.
The Sowetalian was established by a chef whose father is Italian and mother is Sotho (from Lesotho). Items on the menu are a fusion of typical township cuisine and authentic Italian dishes. The restaurant is located close to the Regina Mundi Church.
Get sticky and messy the real African way
When in Soweto, eat like a Sowetean. You’ve got to try a bit of everything on a menu offering authentic African cuisine even if the thought of chicken heads and feet, cow tongue and cooked pig hoof doesn’t sound that appealing.
Chesa nyama or shisa nyama (meaning burnt meat in Zulu) is essentially braaied (barbeque) meat. Mieliepap (maize meal porridge) or pap as the locals call it is served with most dishes. It has a doughy texture and is traditionally eaten with your hands; roll a piece of pap into a ball and scoop up the meaty stew like you would a dipping sauce.
Pap is dry and fairly unappetising on its own so it’s always served with either a tasty stew, chakalaka or shebu, which is a sauce made from green vegetables and chillies. Considering most traditional Africans live on the breadline, anything goes into the sauce; beetroot, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes and morogo (a variety of wild weeds collected from the fields).
A good chesa nyama meal is usually accompanied with a glass or two of umqombothi; a popular traditional home-brewed beer made from sorghum mixed with maize meal, water and yeast and left to ferment.
Other side dishes include tripe which is left-over cuts of a carcass; including the liver, kidneys, brains, stomach and lungs. Traditional meat stews are often made from low-quality cuts of meat such as the tongue, tail, feet and head of a cow. Locals love what they call “walkie-talkies” which is a traditional dish of grilled or deep-fried feet and heads of chickens.
Sweet potato is more popular than the common potato as it’s richer in nutrients. It’s usually cooked over an open fire in its skin and then mashed up and served with butter and roasted peanuts and a squirt of honey.
Morogo is a widely-used term for any combination of edible green leaves; including wild spinach, bean and beetroot leaves. It’s delicious when boiled and served with pap and a braised onion and tomato sauce.
If you have a strong stomach, try amanqina which is a spicy, sticky stew made from the hoof of a cow, pig or sheep. Or try mashonzha which is a dish made from Mopani worms. These worms look like caterpillars and are delicious fried, grilled or cooked with chilli and peanuts.
If you are battling to choose from the list of foreign-sounding African names for the food items at a Soweto tavern, ask your Moafrika Tours guide to recommend something on the menu that is delicious but won’t make you feel like you’re a contestant on Fear Factor. Cow hoofs, ox tongue, Mopani worms and “walkie-talkies” are not everyone’s thing but you should always try something once.
Drink the local brew
The local people of Soweto love umqombothi, a traditional beer made from maize (corn), maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water. It is rich in Vitamin B and low in alcohol. It certainly is an acquired taste; a thick, creamy beer with a distinctly sour aroma and gritty texture.
Amasi (or maas in Afrikaans) is the common word for fermented milk and tastes like sour cottage cheese or plain yogurt. It is traditionally prepared by storing unpasteurised cow’s milk in a calabash (dried squash) or hide sack. The milk is left to ferment and soon develops a watery substance called umlaza. The thin liquid is discarded and the remaining thick fermented milk is either drunk on its own or poured over pap or breakfast porridge. A meal of pap and amasi is traditionally served in a clay pot and eaten with wooden spoons.
Mageu is a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from fermented mealie pap. Traditional women still prepare this much-loved drink at home but it’s also available in cartons at most supermarkets. The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process gives the drink a distinctive sour taste, although store-bought mageu is often flavoured and sweetened.
Party like a rap star
Music is the lifeblood of young Soweteans and the city is renowned as the founding place for Kwaito and Kasi Rap, a hip-hop genre that is unique to South Africa. Soweto reverberates to a musical beat that is a combination of house music, American hip-hop and traditional African music. Many of the popular songs tell the tale of oppression and the people’s will to fight for freedom and equality.
Take a walk down memory lane
Soweto remembers its past; safeguarding its turbulent heritage with museums and statues that honour the great struggle veterans who fought for freedom and equality. The most famous attraction in Soweto is Vilakazi Street Precinct which provides you with an array of iconic sites that honour the city’s turbulent past and its struggle for freedom and equality.
Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world with the homes of two Nobel Peace Prize winners; the great Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their former homes are located a short walk from each other.
House number 8115 is the former house of Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa. Now known as Mandela House, the simple three-bedroomed home has been carefully restored as a living museum.
A short distance away is Tutu House, the former home of his good friend and fellow Noble Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Two large metal bull heads have been erected outside Mandela House, entitled The Nobel Laureates. They stand on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, and pay homage to these two great men.
Remember the children
A massive metal structure has been erected on Moema Street to commemorate the Soweto Uprising; it depicts a group of schoolchildren facing a policeman with a growling dog. The impressive structure honours the young children who lost their lives during the student protests of 1976. A memorial wall of slate on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets provides visitors with a quiet place to sit and contemplate the fateful day of 1976 and the events that unfolded in its aftermath.
A striking piece of street art is visible where Vilakazi Street intersects Khumalo Street. Eight huge grey hands spell ‘Vilakazi’ in sign language. Other murals in the street include one that depicts the scene of 16 June 1976 with police and their vans, and placard-carrying children. Several concrete benches have been livened up with intricate mosaic work and a row of bollards with wooden heads has been placed on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane streets.
Hastings Ndlovu’s Bridge was erected on the corner of Klipspruit Valley and Khumalo Road in remembrance of the 15-year old boy who was the first pupil shot when the police opened fire on the schoolchildren. He was rushed to hospital but died of his head wound. A statue of the young Hastings stands sentry on the bridge; dressed in school uniform, smiling and holding his arm up. Storyboards line each side of the bridge that tell the tale of the heroic bravery of young schoolchildren like Hastings.
Various streets, museums and graveyard sights in other parts of the city commemorate Soweto’s turbulent history and tell the silent tale of tragedy, suffering and bravery. This includes the grave of Hector Pieterson at Avalon Cemetery and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum.
The memorial site and museum was opened on 16 June 2002 in Orlando West in Soweto, marking the place where Hector was shot. It not only honours the life of Hector but also those that died on that fateful day and in the months following the 1976 Soweto Uprising.
A blown-up photograph of the dying schoolboy, Hector Pieterson, carried in the arms of a young 18-year old pupil with his crying sister running alongside is the center-piece exhibit of the museum. The photograph reminds visitors of the agony and suffering these three young school children endured, caught up in a moment of time that changed the destiny of Black citizens of South Africa. Thereafter, a tour of the Hector Pieterson Museum is a fusion of modern technology and cultural history.
Regina Mundi Church is the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa and is found in Rockville, in the middle of Soweto. It is famous for having opened its doors to protesting schoolchildren in 1976 when the apartheid police opened fire on them. Public gatherings were banned by the apartheid government after the Soweto Riots and Regina Mundi Church was used for political meetings.
Swing from the Orlando Towers
Orlando Towers is a striking landmark in Soweto; painted luminous blue and covered in traditional artwork depicting the historical struggles and the daily life of Soweteans. The Orland Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station that stands out like two sentries overlooking the city of Soweto. The power station was erected at the end of World War II and served the city of Johannesburg for over 50 years.
The mural on Orlando Towers was hand-painted and took 6 months to complete. Orlando Towers is popular among thrill seekers who come from far and wide to bungee jump off it, swing or freefall their way to the bottom. There’s a walkway between the two that the brave and fearless can tackle.
Spend the night in Soweto
A fun day in Soweto doesn’t have to end at sunset. Moafrika Tours can recommend guests houses in Soweto for an overnight stay. The city comes alive at night and your guide will take you to places that are popular and safe for visitors. Wake up to the sound of Soweto and experience the exciting buzz of one of South Africa’s most vibrant cities.
JUST ASK MOAFRIKA TOURS
There is so much more to do in Soweto; you just have to ask.
Moafrika Tours is known for “never saying no to a guest” and the team can usually make something happen.
Your Moafrika Tours guide has been taking guests to the heart of the big city for over a decade and loves sharing the sights and delights of Soweto with guests. If you want to go off the beaten path, your guide will make a plan that is safe and responsible.
Moafrika Tours can organise a party tour for bachelor and bachorette parties. Now that’s something different!