Mamelodi may not be as well known as the more famous black townships of Soweto and Alexandra, but it shares the same pulsing vitality and some of their struggle history. Created by the apartheid government in 1953, about 20km east of the City of Tshwane (Pretoria) with just a handful of houses, today it is home to hundreds of thousands of people.
The township is undergoing a massive upgrade programme to develop a “social integration and mobility hub” with a large shopping centre, a medical centre and space for 1 400 taxis and 600 traders.
The University of Pretoria, affectionately known as “Tukkies” and one of Africa’s top internationally recognised research and teaching universities, has a campus in Mamelodi, and there are also many diverse local and international organisations improving the living standards and education within the township.
The Mamelodi Trust operates a number of schools in the area and Mamelodi is also home to the largest Aids Hospice centre in South Africa.
The residents of Mamelodi eat, drink and breathe soccer. Their famous team, Mamelodi Sundowns – nicknamed The Brazilians – are one of the top soccer teams in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League.
Mamelodi has a long and painful history of resistance to apartheid, and its Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square is particularly well worth a visit. The precinct includes a photo gallery commemorating some of the township’s struggle history, memorial pathways, an amphitheatre, and a giant statue of apartheid struggle hero Solomon Mahlangu in full military combat uniform.
A resident of the township and a member of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, Mahlangu was hanged by the apartheid government in 1979, despite worldwide appeals for leniency. His last words, now famous, were, “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”
If you’re in the Pretoria area in August, brave the huge crowds and attend the fabulous Moretele Park Tribute Concert, an annual music festival held at Moretele Park in Mamelodi, renowned as the finest event of its kind in Southern Africa. Originally launched in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium in 1998 when South African musical greats, including Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba, were celebrated, today the tradition continues in Mamelodi, with fantastic performances by local artists.
Afterwards slake your thirst and have a bite to eat at one of over 50 registered shebeens (informal bars) in the township.