Soweto – the sprawling township that became the spiritual centre of the anti-apartheid struggle – has held its first wine festival.

More than 500 wines from 86 producers were featured in what organisers have said will be the first annual Soweto Wine Festival, sponsored by the South African Wine Industry Trust (SAWIT).

Soweto, the scene of a massive uprising in 1976 in which hundreds were killed by police, celebrates its centenary in 2006. Originally called South-Western Townships, it grew out of the shanty towns and slums that surrounded Johnannesburg in the early 1900s.

Having been the largest and most impoverished centre of the black population, areas of Soweto are now highly sought-after. Tour companies organise visits to the township, visiting squatter camps, Winnie Mandela’s house and other famous sites.

And wine producers have identified the growing black middle class as a market well worth chasing. South Africa is the ninth-largest wine producer in the world, but it ranks only 33rd in terms of consumption.

Jannie Le Roux of South Africa’s leading producer Boland Vineyards International said, ‘we would like to expand our business. We want to be part of the new South Africa.’

Boland has just announced a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal in the form of the sale of a 26% stake to an investment firm owned by black women.

The wines shown in Soweto last weekend included black-owned labels such as Ses’Fikile (Xhosa for ‘We have arrived’) and Lindiwe (‘The one we have been waiting for’).

Distributors are targetting Soweto pubs – known as shebeens – to carry some of the wines shown during the festival.

South Africa’s wine industry still lags behind other industries like finance and catering in terms of BEE. Despite many empowerment deals in which shares in wineries have been made over to black workers, the industry is still only 1.5% black owned.

There is an increasing number of black-owned labels however. Many of them own neither vineyard nor cellar but outsource everything from vinification to bottling to distribution.

The 14-member South African Black Vintners Alliance was also represented at the festival.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and agencies