AN AMBITIOUS project to transform Soweto into a city is brewing right at the heart of South Africa’s largest township, which is situated south of Johannesburg.
“The perception that Soweto is a township has to change,” says Kgomotso Pooe, chairman of a tourism collective called SoWeToo.
SoWeToo, which was officially launched last week, is the brainchild of seven young entrepreneurs. They are from different educational backgrounds, including agriculture and hospitality.
While tourists tend to drive through the township, Pooe says they want to make sure people “step out of their air-conditioned buses to experience the township life.”
The project brings a renewed focus on the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, where the Freedom Charter monument stands next to the four-star Soweto Hotel.
They have also introduced packages, which include quad biking and a guided tour of Soweto, with pit stops at various heritage sites and entertainment spots.
The group has also partnered with City Sightseeing Johannesburg, the company that operates the red bus tour that ferries people around Joburg CBD.
If Pooe’s contention that Soweto is a city has some truth to it, then the Walter Sisulu Square will bring into sharp focus the two faces of the area. On one hand, there is the sleek, renovated and culturally rich precinct and on the other a sea of shacks reached through meandering dusty paths. In this poor section there are no clinics, flushing toilets or electricity.
However, Pooe insists that a project like SoWeToo will help create a self-sustained economy for Soweto. This is set to benefit everyone from the woman selling sweets on the pavement to the local restaurant owner.
Pooe and his team look forward to fostering a new culture of leisure, which will make Sowetans tourists in their own backyard.
“Which other township has bungee jumping, quad biking or bird watching? We have it all here. So people shouldn’t have to leave Soweto to get these things,” he says adding the underlying principle is to plough back resources into the community.
SoWeToo started last year, but the product has only been tested in the past three weeks. Pooe says they decided to start after the 2010 World Cup to avoid a spike in demand then a sharp decline after the hype dissipates.
“We wanted to create something that will grow consistently.”