On a recent trip to Johannesburg, I finally got the chance to visit Vilakazi street, in Soweto. Soweto is an acronym for South Western Township. We drove to Soweto ourselves and opted not take a guided tour, as we wanted the freedom to explore at our own pace. There are public parking areas and you can do a self-guided tour. We parked our car at the top of the street and walked down Vilakazi street and some of the surrounding streets.
The importance of numbers:
Our first stop was 8115 Vilakazi street, the former home of the late Nelson Mandela. This modest house Nelson Mandela shared with his first wife Evelyn and second wife Winnie. Admission to the house, now a museum, only costs R60 per person. We took the free guided tour of the house, and learned so much history on this 30-minute tour.
Outside the museum, there are street musicians and gumboot dancers performing, which really adds to the experience and vibe on the street. Locals on the street are friendly and keen to welcome you to their home and Soweto.
Did you know:
Vilakazi street: One street, two Nobel prize winners. Vilakazi street is the only street in the world where two great leaders and noble prize winners hail from. It is also home to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As it is his residential home, in which his wife still lives, it is not open to the public.
What else is there to do:
What was a normal residential street, now houses boutiques, art, food, history and music. The street is lined with cheerful informal traders selling various crafts and curios. Street art and graffiti is found around almost every corner of the ‘tourist’ areas. Art and graffiti by local artist Senzo Nhlapo is on display, and you can make a donation if you take photos of the art. If you fancy some traditional food, and have time, grab a bite to eat at popular Sakhumzi restaurant.
Memories good and bad:
The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum is located within close proximity to Vilakazi street. The memorial is located just outside the museum. The museum is dedicated to telling the story of the 1976 uprisings. We spent most of our time in Vilakazi street and did not have time to visit the museum, so I recommend allowing more than half a day if you want to visit all the museums.
How to get there:
It is located approximately 30 kilometers from Joburg CBD and about 40-minute drive from OR Tambo International airport. To avoid traffic and the crowds, we visited on a weekday, after rush hour traffic. Vilakazi street is very popular and can become crowded over weekends, hence we visited during the week. There are guided Soweto tours, which also includes a stop at the Soweto Towers, see link for more information. The landmark towers offer thrilling adventures/activities to partake in, including bungee jumping and free falling.
This was a morning well spent in Soweto. The history behind Vilakazi street left me feeling both cheerful and solemn. The next time I am in town, I hope to visit Vilakazi street when they are hosting the Vilakazi street festival. Next destination, Pretoria. Until next time!