Until recently, most tours of Johannesburg steered clear of Soweto. Happily, that ignominy has ended with the official recognition accorded to certain monuments and important spaces in the 200km2 area.
A must-see, now preserved as a place of significance, is the house occupied since around 1934 by the “Father of Soweto”, James ‘Sofasonke’ Mpanza at Hlatywayo Street in Orlando. Mpanza was a larger-than-life character, who converted to Christianity and became a preacher while doing time for fraud and murder.
Released after a pardon to mark the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1927, he taught in Pretoria and like thousands of other blacks, later moved to Johannesburg. Towards the end of World War II, blacks in Johannesburg suffered from an acute shortage of housing. The government, mines and other industries employing them had failed to make any provision for them.
In 1944, thanks to his stature as a reformed man, Mpanza was able to organise a squat by 8, 000 followers on municipal land. After clashes with the police left two dead, but failed to move the squatters, municipal resistance crumbled. An emergency camp was declared on which 991 families would be sheltered.
In 1946 another 30, 000 people congregated in a squat west of Orlando. The municipality immediately declared a new emergency camp named Moroka. These camps were meant to be used for only five years, but when they were razed in 1955 to make way for more formal, serviced structures, Moroka and Jabavu housed
89, 000 residents.
Also in 1955, a dusty field in Kliptown, the oldest settled part of Soweto, was the venue of an unprecedented Congress of the People. It was attended by about 3, 000 members of organisations resisting the white supremacist government. The Congress adopted the Freedom Charter, a list of demands canvassed from blacks across the country and synthesised into the final document by various leaders.
In 2005, 50 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter, then-President Thabo Mbeki lit a flame of freedom at the venue of the Congress. The ceremony marked the opening of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. In the square stands a memorial to the document, 10 large triangular concrete slabs on which the principles of the Freedom Charter are etched.
Mandela House is another popular tourist stop in Soweto. Officially the Nelson Mandela National Museum, this is the house on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West where Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962. Together with Tutu House – a property belonging the family of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu – this gives Vilakazi Street the distinction of being the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel laureates.
Over the Easter holidays, the Rand Easter Show has long been the place to visit in Johannesburg. Since 1894, as southern Africa's most varied consumer exhibit, the Rand Show has been a reliable drawcard for visitors of all ages, from surrounding areas and further afield.
Founded by the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, the Rand Show originally showcased livestock and farming implements. It still does, in parts. In other parts, the Show has moved a long way from its rural beginnings.
Take the House of Horrors as an example. This is described as experiential theatre that everyone aged 13 and older should investigate if they dare. It is not for the faint-hearted. The installation is a world that unfolds as the dream of a young child. In it, fearsome characters are brought to life through the use of multi-media and special effects that immerse you in spine-tingling encounters.
If that’s not your thing, you can still count on the familiar exhibits. The Flower and Garden Expo brings you the latest in garden design, outdoor furniture and accessories. Enter the Garden Show competition to stand a chance to win tickets to London’s famed Chelsea Flower Show in May.
The Lifestyle Expo is touted as an interactive platform offering savvy consumers the best of South African design. There are kitchen and dining zones, a home tech zone, a health, beauty and wellness zone as well as a homebuilding and renovating zone.
The South African National Defence Force arena programme takes place at the main arena, daily at 15:00, only until Monday 2 April. Drill teams will be going through their paces for the edification of the public. Members of the army’s chief airborne infantry unit, the 44 Parachute Regiment, will also show off their skills, together with units incorporating canine, equestrian and motorcycle training into their displays.
The Festival Stage is a beacon of musical entertainment throughout, with performances by favourites including Caroline Grace and Dr Victor. On Saturday, 7 April, the Stage hosts Mr & Miss Rand Show.
No visit to the Rand Show is complete without an adrenaline-fuelled visit to the fun fair. This year, the rides in the amusement park will have longer operating hours than ever before, from 10h00 all the way to closing time at 21h00. For even more excitement, drifting rides and helicopter rides are also on offer.
Rand Show is at the Nasrec Expo Centre from 30 March to 8 April.