The importance of Soweto in the collective consciousness is hard to overstate. It registers as a place born of resistance, perhaps even embodying the South African struggle for freedom.
Like the rest of Johannesburg, Soweto came into being as a consequence of the discovery of gold; the mines and resulting industrialisation needing workers. Sections of the shanty town that grew up were gradually turned into formal structures of mortar and brick, and apartheid policies swiftly followed, with devastating result. Our combined image of Soweto is often overwhelmed by this meta-narrative, by its resultant socio-economic hangover, as much as by the struggle heroes and momentous events that defined it in the history books.
But the birth of Kwaito is attributed to Soweto too. And beyond the grand narratives, there is and always was lots of dancing – a lot of everything else too in a place defined by its energy and cosmopolitan nature.
Soweto contemplates daily lived realities, where here, as elsewhere, South Africans are continually reinventing themselves and their urban space. Labelling and unlabelling, claiming and discarding, Sowetans have created Soweto anew.