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SSoweto is home to many political tributes and memorials of heroes and champions of the struggle – those who have dedicated their lives to fighting for the freedom of the people of South Africa. Soweto has played host to some of the most historic events that can be attributed to the long positive trajectory that South Africa finds itself in today.
One such historic monument is the Regina Mundi Church, the largest Roman Catholic Church in South Africa. The church is located in the middle of Soweto, in Rockville, in the neighbourhood of Moroka. It was built in 1961 and officially opened on 24 July 1962 by Johannes Baptista Montini, a cardinal of Milan.
TThe church engraved its name in South Africa's history books during apartheid, when it opened its doors to anti-apartheid groups and provided shelter to activists. At first sight, the church looks ordinary but upon closer gaze and inspection you start appreciating the vintage interior that can accommodate as many as 2000-5000 people.
Despite the massive renovations that the church has undergone, it has managed to retain key historical attributes that commemorate the role it played during the struggle. The damage caused by bullets on the furniture, symbolic ornaments and religious representations are still visible. A damaged marble stand provides tangible evidence of the painful history. Due to the significant role it played as a place of assembly for the people of Soweto in previous years, it is often referred to as "the people's church".
Regina Mundi Church
OOn 30 November 1997, former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the church by declaring 30 November as Regina Mundi Day - “a church that refused to allow God’s name to be used to justify discrimination and repression.”
The church houses numerous donated artefacts. The most noticeable piece is a picture of, “The Black Madonna”, depicting a black Virgin Mary holding a black infant Jesus. It was created in 1973 by Larry Scully as a part of a campaign to raise funds for the education of black South Africans. The second noticeable artefact is its stained glass windows decorated with scenery of Mary’s life. These windows were donated by Mrs Jolanta Kwasniewska, wife of the President of Poland in 1998.
TThe Regina Mundi Church is still firmly rooted in the community and is accessible to both locals and international visitors. True to its identity as “the people's church" this historical landmark has played host to world leaders and tourists, most notably, Bill and Hillary Clinton and recently Michelle Obama who addressed the Young African Women Leaders Forum.
Paul Kruger Street Synagogue, the first synagogue to be constructed in Pretoria, was expropriated by the government in 1952 and converted into a special Supreme Court.
Pretoria Central Prison is arguably the most infamous prison where Mandela was held before he was transferred to Robben Island.
The FNB Stadium continues to be the preferred platform of choice for the Soweto Derby featuring Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.
The Mandela House in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, is now a small but interesting museum where you can learn more about Nelson Mandela's life.
Dr. A.B. Xuma’s house in Sophiatown tells the story of a way of life during apartheid.
Emirates Airline Park played a significant role in South African sporting history, after hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
National Archives and Records Service of South Africa - the Reading Room is open for public use and is free of charge.
The Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Facility gallows is now a museum. It memorialises the 3500 souls who lost their lives here.
Nelson Mandela’s memory lives on in a number of places in Gauteng where he spent his formative political years, opening a legal practice and starting to play a leading role in the Struggle against apartheid.