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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK
Soweto township marks centenary
Soweto resident celebrate the township's centenary
Soweto played an important part in South Africa's modern history
South Africa's famous Soweto township has marked 100 years since its creation in a mood of optimism far removed from the days of apartheid.

As part of the celebrations, residents and dignitaries planted a tree near the site of the original settlement.

Soweto's oldest school, Musi secondary school, provided entertainment.

Soweto began when tens of thousands of Johannesburg's black residents were sent there from the city centre as the white authorities imposed segregation.

Leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived there, and riots in the 1970s paved the way for democracy.

Now the area is seen by some as a model of hope for South Africa as a whole.

'Top of the world'

"Soweto is not a place of doom and gloom - it's a place of hope," local businessman Dan Moyane told the BBC.

"It's a place where some of us come and get inspiration and the way things are at the moment, Soweto in my mind has to form the base of a new future for South Africa."

Martha Ramabusa, 72, whose mother was one of the first people born on the new settlement, told Reuters news agency: "When my gran came here there were just four houses here and it was still bush, with wild animals around the place."

Anti-apartheid struggle

Soweto, which is an acronym for Johannesburg's South West Townships, is now home to more than 3.5 million people.

Life in Soweto

The BBC's Alastair Leithead says the area is a vibrant, energetic township where community seems to mean so much more than in Johannesburg's sterile, security-ringed suburbs.

During apartheid, Soweto became a hotbed of resistance to the government and political activity.

The student riots of 1976 began here and spread across the country, paving the way towards the end of apartheid.

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle was the shooting dead of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson by a policeman in Soweto in June 1976, during a demonstration against the use of Afrikaans as the teaching language in schools.

His death, captured by harrowing photographs seen across the world marked a turning point which finally brought democracy 10 years ago.


Now life is slowly improving for the inhabitants. Water and electricity has been provided for many people, but not all.

In Soweto, as in other townships, thousands of shacks have been cleared away and replaced with solid houses, with proper roadways and street lighting.

There are even some small guest houses, restaurants, small shopping malls with security guards, and a new supermarket.

Thousands of tourists also visit Soweto every year, stopping off at Nelson Mandela's old house, the Hector Pieterson Museum and landmarks where some of the biggest battles against apartheid were fought out.

While Aids and unemployment are still huge problems in Soweto, there is a real feeling of optimism that the next 100 years have good things in store for the sprawling township, our correspondent says.

The authorities say the money raised from events to mark the anniversary will be used to help to improve the township.

The history of the township

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