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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 happened at 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 official opened on the 24th of 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" or "the people's cathedral".
Regina Mundi Church
OOn the 30th of November 1997, former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the church by declaring the 30th of 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 the Republic 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 cathedral" 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.
It was an act that had played out many times in South Africa: a forced removal. In 1904 bubonic plague broke out in the town centre, in an area known as Brickfields. Once the brick makers had been removed 25km south, to Klipspruit, the area was fenced and razed to the ground. And so Soweto was born.