4 June 2010
It could be mistaken for any other street in Soweto, with small, well-kept homes and the daily bustle of pedestrians. One may notice a few extra restaurants and bars, but nothing out of the ordinary. Yet Vilakazi Street is one of the most famous in South Africa.
Vilakazi is the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners – former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – and as such holds a special place in South African history.
The house where Mandela lived
In an extract from his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes how he felt after returning to his home on Vilakazi street with his then wife Winne Mandela after 27 years in prison.
“That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me, No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”
Since converted into a national monument to Mandela and his role in the apartheid struggle, No. 8115 Vilakazi Street, now known as the Mandela House Museum, is a popular stop for visitors.
Madonna Seruto has been working at the Mandela House Museum for over five years, and has found the interest in the heritage site growing in the build-up to the World Cup. “I grew up 15 minutes’ walk from here,” says Seruto. “I am very proud of my job. We get to meet different people from all over the world every day.
“I am excited to teach the world this story. People come here, some cry, some pray before they come inside, others take their hats off, but all of them enjoy it and take something away with them when they go.”
Desmond Tutu still owns his house on Vilakazi Street, and often goes to stay there when he visits Johannesburg.
The road is also home to one the most famous schools in Soweto, Orlando West High School. The school was one of the most active during the 16 June 1976 student protests.
Aside from its historical importance, Vilakazi Street has also become a social hub, where local and foreign people gather to enjoy a drink or have a meal.
“This street is full of hype, and during the World Cup we will welcome our visitors with warmth,” says Boniswa Seakamela, the manager of the Nelson Mandela House Restaurant. “Honestly, I am getting calls for bookings that exceeds my seating capacity.
“We were very busy during the Confederations Cup last year, so we are excited about the World Cup,” says Seakamela. “Serving our local food, showing the games and making the most of it.”
Vilakazi Street, and other township destinations, are fast becoming part of the greater South African tourism experience. Restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and backpackers are opening their doors to foreign visitors, offering a unique experience off the beaten track.
“Vilakazi Street is an iconic landmark and tourist attraction. There is no other street in the world like it,” says Lindiwe Mahlangu, CEO of the Johannesburg Tourism Company. “Soweto is an important part of our country’s heritage. It was here that the Freedom Charter was drafted in 1955, an important document used in the creation of the Constitution of South Africa.”
And what is the message from Vilalazi before the kick-off of the 2010 Fifa World Cup?
“Welcome to South Africa,” says Dolly Hlope, a resident of the area. “You are welcome here in Vilakazi Street during the World Cup.”