The sangoma of Soccer City

A short history of Soweto, South Africa — in 150(ish) words

Before joining a half-day cycling tour of Soweto, the only thing I knew about it was that it was precisely the kind of place I would never tell my mom I was going. I had only vague knowledge that this township outside Johannesburg was historically significant—something to do with Nelson Mandela and apartheid — but beyond that the only word I associated with it was “dangerous”.

That quickly changed. I learned about its history, culture and politics from locals, spoke to a sangoma (traditional healer) along a dirt road, was offered chicken at a backyard barbecue, and swigged local lager at a bar.

It became apparent that this place is not as homogeneous asI had originally assumed. Even the skyline was disparate, from the Soccer City stadium, a modern architectural gem, to the cooling towers of a decommissioned coal-fired power station.

Half a day is all it takes to change your mind about a place.

Photos by Mark Bessoudo