/ 16 April 2006

Soweto to get its first upmarket hotel

The Soweto township is soon to open its first luxury hotel as tourists in increasing numbers stream to the suburb, which was once the focal point in the fight against apartheid.

The upmarket hotel is to rise in the historic heart of Kliptown as Soweto experiences a growing economic boom since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Its futuristic rough balconies will overhang streets where horse-drawn carriages and taxis slalom among chicken pens and stalls with brightly coloured tomatoes, pawpaws and other goods for sale at bargain prices.

It was here where activists in 1955 signed the historic Freedom Charter now the pillar of South Africa’s Constitution, which said that ”South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

The four-star hotel, to be inaugurated in October, will rise over Freedom Square where the charter was drawn up and where today the ”Flame of Eternal Freedom” burns.

This complex built in the ultra-modern style is the spearhead of revival in Kliptown, surrounded by Soweto’s shantytown suburbs. It will offer guests a tourism office, an open-air museum on the history of the charter, shops, markets and restaurants.

Rooms will be decorated in an African style with warm colours complimented by local works of art and crafts. Its bathrooms are to be decorated with newspaper clippings of the great events in Soweto’s history.

South Africa’s Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk this week visited the side of the proposed Freedom Square Hotel saying he was ”impressed by the project” estimated at around $20-million.

”It is important to have this kind of hotel in Soweto because a lot of international tourists come here and then they leave. We have a few beds and breakfast but this is not enough,” Van Schalkwyk told journalists.

Around 200 000 vistors tour the township every year.

They come to see the famous Vilakazi Street — the only street in the world where two Nobel prize winners, anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, lived.

They tour the Hector Petersen memorial commemorating the 1976 student revolt against the white minority regime, while passing through the nearby Regina Mundi church, the moral beacon against oppression and racism.

But although B&B’s mushroomed in Soweto since apartheid ended in 1994, the township today has only 34 duly listed and those have one or two rooms on average.

The Freedom Square Hotel ”will offer 48 rooms, including two suites, and the rates should be between R450 and R$600 ($75 to $100)” said Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, director of the Zatic group which is spearheading the project.

A partnership founded last year between tourism professionals and Kliptown’s Ipelegeng Youth Development Programme, Zatic specialises in the reintegration of young people into the community.

”For the community, this project is a recognition and gives a sense of hope to the people, new opportunities,” said Ipelegeng chairperson Peter Mbuli, stating that there was a 40% unemployment rate in the area.

”It will create 48 permanent jobs and will give work to hundreds of people in Kliptown through a laundry service,” added Zatic’s Sangweni-Siddo.

”But, above all, our job will be to train young people from this community who want to enter the hospitality sector,” she said. – Sapa-AFP