Soweto celebrates 100 years

The commemoration kicked off with a tree planting ceremony symbolising a new era of freedom and growth.

An African pine tree was planted as organisers geared up for three weeks of celebrations to mark the founding of Soweto.

Originally a shanty town, Soweto has been home to a galaxy of freedom fighters including Nelson Mandela and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu.

Officially Soweto’s population is 1.1 million residents but unofficially the number is closer to four million.

Many resident said the tree planting at Musi school, Soweto’s oldest high school in the Pimville suburb, not only marked past history but also new hope for the future.

Soweto is an acronym for South Western Townships and was founded in October 1904 after an outbreak of bubonic plague north of Johannesburg’s city centre.

The outbreak was blamed by the authorities on teams of black men who were doing washing for nearby gold mines.

It gave them the excuse to burn what was referred to as the “Coolie Location” to the ground and relocate about 118 blacks to Klipspruit farm, about 25 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg.

“There was no proper housing here, no sanitation. People lived in tents for 20 to 30 years before getting homes,” said Ntshangase.

Soweto hit international headlines in June 1976 when the township erupted in protest against the forced teaching in the township’s schools of Afrikaans, the language of the white oppressors.

Hundreds of school children, including 13-year-old Hector Petersen, were shot dead when apartheid police opened fire on protestors.

“The blood flowed like the water which we gave this tree today,” said Mabutho “Kid” Sithole, a well-know television actor and one of the township’s most famous stage personalities.

Both 74-year-old Teboho Lebeko, one of Musi High’s first pupils in 1948 and Mphikeleli Mahlaba, 14, agreed.

“When I first came here, there was nothing, just dust,” Lebeko told AFP.

“Today, we are feeling on top of the world,” said the former pupil of Musi school.

Festivities in Soweto will include jazz concerts and other events to raise money for the township and help with upliftment.

A gala dinner for 2,500 guests is planned for the end of the month.

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