A weekend in Soweto

Posted by Chantal Stanfield on 16 October 2012

I won a fantastic weekend in Soweto through the Getaway, Fair Trade Tourism South Africa and SoWeToo. The weekend was to include various activities not usually associated with common tourist activities or air-conditioned tour buses.

I was picked up from Park Station Gautrain by Zandi (the owner) and Sipho (my driver for the weekend) from Aahaa Tours. They are a tour company which is part of ‘So We Too’ – an entity formed by seven Soweto-based tourism businesses owned by young entrepreneurs determined to give people a real, tactile experience of Soweto.

My first stop was the Soweto Hotel – a rather inconspicuous building in the bustle of Kliptown, adjacent to the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. The hotel exterior is not elaborate or ostentatious at all but feels modest given its humble surroundings. I’ve been in the exact same square before but mistook the side of the hotel for an office building of sorts.

The inconspicuous exterior with market activity between the pillars.


I was welcomed warmly by Samke Malevu (the front desk manager), the hotel staff and a tin mug of refreshing homemade ginger beer also known as ‘gemmer’. There are also three giants of South African politics watching as you check in – Albertina Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu are depicted in striking mosaic work behind the front desk. The interior of the hotel lobby is unashamedly African in its colour palette, furnishings and object d’art – without being patronising to either the local or international guest.

The passageway leading to my room was hung with South African poetry in various languages with a corresponding artwork linked to the themes of the poem – these distracted me for almost half an hour as I admired each ‘station’ en route to my room.


Vibrant quirkiness adorns both the bed and walls.


My room itself was bright and comfortable, with colourful, quirky pillows and wall tapestry. A large portrait of Mandela in conversation hangs above the bed (not as weird as you might think!) and a balcony overlooks Kliptown to the left with the square below. The room itself is surprisingly spacious, all areas feel separate and almost hidden – a wall that houses the TV and a small cabinet separates the bedroom from the adjacent dressing area, bathroom and desk area.

At this point, with a thunderstorm looming overheard, I hustled down to the restaurant for a quick bite (my tour of Kliptown with Ntokozo Dube of TKD Tours would happen shortly). The lounge, the bar and the restaurant are all interleading from the foyer. There is a 24-hour business desk of two computers for travellers who want to catch up with work or play online – wifi is available at R20 per half hour.

I had a tasty chicken mayo sandwich with salad and the most beautiful-looking hot chocolate in the Jazz Maniacs Restaurant. It’s dedicated to jazz history and legends of Soweto and pictures of these icons in action adorn the walls. True to its jazz tribute, the restaurant hosts jazz evenings on the last Sunday of every month – the artists are mostly young, talented locals. At the end of October, however, the hotel celebrates its fifth birthday and they’re getting some bigger names on-board for the celebration.

Lunch over, it was time to meet up with TK for a walkabout tour of Kliptown. I returned to the hotel after my walkabout craving a sundowner. The bar indulged me with a perfectly zesty margarita for only R22 – I’ve paid more than double for Margarita’s that were only half as good as what I had at Rusty’s Bar, truly! They were so good that I had more later that evening after supper with friends.

I made my back to my room – rather steadily, given the popularity of the margaritas – and settled in to recoup my energy for the next day’s activities which promised to be a bit more strenuous and dirty. The thunder and rain continued to roll in but I was oblivious to that fact as I sunk into the comfort of my bed with lemon-flavoured dreams.


Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre




To read more about FTTSA and see a list of all certified businesses go to www.fairtourismsa.org.za or join FTTSA on Facebook.

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