Soweto, the teeming township of a million souls tacked on to Johannesburg's south west corner, can justly claim to be the painful birthplace of modern South Africa.
On June 16th 1976, a peaceful march led by high school students protesting against the introduction of classes in Afrikaans exploded into violence as the police fired tear gas and bullets into a crowd of children as young as 13. The images swept across the world, galvanising outrage both within South Africa and around the world, and fatally weakening the Apartheid regime.
Although the streets of Soweto still play host to scenes of great deprivation, pockets of this massive township are undergoing a genuine renaissance: a new state-of-the-art theatre has brought high culture to the township, glitzy malls have implanted themselves among the hand painted hoardings advertising nappies and dreadlocks, and the iconic cooling towers of the Orlando Power Station have gained a new life as home to a one-of-a-kind bungee jump. Soweto now hosts its own wine festival, and performers of the calibre of Coldplay regularly play at Soccer City stadium.
The 2010 World Cup in particular brought new attention and investment to Soweto. New sidewalks adorn Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, a neat middle class part of town which enjoys the unique distinction of having been home to two Nobel laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The Blue Yonder's Soweto itineraries take you to these important landmarks, and to the nearby Hector Pietersen museum, an absorbing and emotional memorial to the young boy whose body became the iconic image of the Soweto Uprising.
But if you really want a taste of the life and spirit of Soweto there's no match for a cycling tour led by our streetwise local guides. Chatting to the people of the township in a street creole of Xhosa, Swahili and Spanish, they will introduce you to characters the tour buses don't reach – the rheumy-eyed denizens of shebeens (unoffical drinking holes, often little more than a tin shack), getting gently tipsy on weak home-brewed hooch; the migrant workers who live four to a bunker in government workers' hostels; the T-shirt designers and musicians of Meadowlands, and the tireless program directors at indie network channel Soweto TV.