A friend sent me a Whatsapp this week complaining about the number of buses and tourists visiting Soweto on a daily basis.
My friend is unemployed, his days are spent sitting outside a spaza shop in Vilakazi, Orlando, watching people go by and updating everyone on his friends list about what’s going on in Soweto.
What he doesn’t realise is that the street he complains is full of tourists is bringing money into our economy. Then again, South Africans do love to complain.
I got so annoyed with his moaning that I reminded him that Vilakazi Street is a national landmark. I had to back up my argument with facts aside from that the street has become a well-known mini business district, with eateries, businesses and historical landmarks.
It’s also a place where many traders sell curios or other wares to the local community and tourists alike. It may not seem important, but selling amagwinya or fat cakes on the side of the road can be profitable enough for a hawker to put their children through school and feed an entire family for generations.
When community television channel, Soweto TV, first aired, its offices were on Vilakazi Street, often attracting celebrities and giving people in the surrounding communities jobs and training in broadcasting.
One of the most authentic South African eateries and the best places to eat on a Sunday is Sakhumzi Restaurant on Vilakazi Street. It serves what tastes like a traditional, South African home-cooked meal. Walk into any black family home on a Sunday and you’ll find a meal of “seven colours” being prepared in a busy kitchen.
We call it this because there will be seven different colours in the food on the plates. It’s made on Sundays because historically many families lived below the poverty line and couldn’t afford to have a full plate of food every day. Meat and salads would be reserved for Sunday, along with custard and jelly. Restaurants like Sakhumzi have kept in touch with the tradition at a reasonable price.
You can also get your car washed while enjoying your Sunday meal. If you like experimenting, you can sample some street cuisine from the vendors, like ískopo, sometimes referred to as “smiley”, which is boiled goat’s head with chilli spice added for flavour.
It’s a favourite for people nursing a hangover and people have been known to drive from the suburbs to the townships just to buy it. The other favourite found only in such areas is amangqina, or pigs’ trotters, which are also cooked and spiced with chilli.
There are the obvious activities like visiting the Mandela house and learning about the history of the street.
Where else in South Africa will you find a street that housed two Nobel Peace Prize laureates? One being retired activist and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the other former president Nelson Mandela. Definitely worth appreciating and boasting about.
Tutu is still a resident of Soweto and is still loved by the community.
The Mandela house is where the late first president of a democratic South Africa lived with his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase. They divorced and he then lived there with late first lady, Winnie Mandela. The house is a museum now.
Vilakazi Street gets particularly busy on June 16 as many township churches hold commemoration services for those killed in the 1976 Soweto Uprising. After peaceful marches to the Hector Pieterson Memorial on the corner of Vilakazi and Moema streets, the area turns into a hive of activity with people buying things on the streets, dance groups, poetry tributes and musicians performing.
People come from different parts of the country to stand together and pay their respects to the children of Soweto who died in 1976. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Phefeni School, which played an important role in the uprising, is still in the street. It’s one of the schools where pupils stood up against the apartheid government, protesting against the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.
There’s something deeply empowering in the fact that people the world over want to visit our little patch of Africa, share in our special holiday and learn about our history.
Take a drive down to Soweto today if you can, you won’t regret it.