The establishment of Soweto is, like Johannesburg, linked directly to the discovery of Gold in 1885. Thousands of people from around the world and South Africa flocked to the new town to seek their fortunes or to offer their labour. Within 4 years Johannesburg was the second largest city. More than half the population was black, most living in multi racial shanty towns near the gold mines in the centre of the town. As the gold mining industry developed, so did the need for labour increase. Migrant labour was started and most of these workers lived in mine compounds. However other workers had to find their own accommodation often in appalling conditions.
The first residents of what is now known as Soweto were located into the area called Klipspriut in 1905 following their relocation from “Coolietown” in the centre of Johannesburg as a result of an outbreak of bubonic plague. The Johannesburg City Council took the opportunity to establish racially segregated residential areas. Some residents were to be relocated to Alexandra township (near the present day Sandton). This group comprised black, Indian and coloured families and they received freehold title to their land (this was subsequently reversed by the Apartheid Government). Only black families were located into Klipspruit and the housing was on a rental basis. Klipspruit was subsequently renamed Pimville.
During the 1930’s the demand for housing for the large numbers of black people who had moved into Johannesburg grew to such an extent that new housing was built in an area known as Orlando, named after the first administrator Edwin Orlando Leaky.
In the 1940’s a controversial character James Mpanza led the first land invasion and some 20 000 squatters occupied land near Orlando. James Mpanza is known as the “Father of Soweto”.
In 1959 the residents of Sophiatown were forcibly removed to Soweto and occupied the area known as Meadowlands. Sir Earnest Oppenheimer, the first chairman of the Anglo American Corporation, was appalled by the housing shortage and was instrumental in arranging a loan for the construction of additional housing and this is commemorated by the Oppenheimer Tower in Jabulani.
Soweto falls within the municipality of the Johannesburg Metro Council in the province of Gauteng which appropriately means place of Gold.
The original rental houses have now been sold to the tenants who received a subsidy from the government to cover the cost of the houses. Private sector housing was developed from the 1980’s funded by the various banks. Freehold title is available to the properties.
Services are provided by the Johannesburg Metro council and electricity by Escom.
Soweto obtained its name from the first two letters of South Western Township which was the original description of the area.
“Soweto is a symbol of the New South Africa, caught between old squatter misery and new prosperity,
squalor and an upbeat lifestyle, it’s a vibrant city which still openly bears the scars of the Apartheid past
and yet shows what’s possible in the New South Africa”