Vilakazi Street is best known for its close association with the Mandela family, but the street has so much more to offer visitors. Neo Mabubula explores the entertainment possibilities in this famous street.

Being the most famous street in Soweto, Vilakazi Street garners constant attention from visitors from overseas as well as locals. The street is vibrant, colourful, a historic site and a ‘must see’. The street has housed two Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and was named after Dr Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, a distinguished writer and educator who wrote the first poetry book published in Zulu.

What to see and do

1. Mandela House

Former President of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and his family lived in this house from 1946 into the 1990s. Mandela donated his home to the Soweto Heritage Trust in September 1997. In March 1999, the National Monuments Council declared the property a national monument.

The official tour of the Mandela House takes about 40 minutes, although visitors can take their time to explore it at their own pace. Opening hours are Monday to Sunday 09h00-16h45. It is closed on Good Friday, Family Day, Christmas Day and the Day of Goodwill.

2. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

Although not on Vilakazi Street, the Hector Pieterson Museum is an attraction that is close to the street. The museum commemorates the role that South African students played during the June 16, 1976 Soweto protests against the apartheid regime’s inferior Bantu education. Many died from being shot by apartheid police. One of the first people to be killed was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. The famous photograph, shot by newspaper photographer Sam Nzima, shows Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student, Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside.

The Hector Pieterson Memorial was erected on Khumalo Street in Soweto in the early 1990s, not far from where Pieterson was shot. It commemorates all those who died or were injured that day, and June 16 has become the National Youth Day public holiday. On June 16, 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum opened next to the memorial. 

Operating hours are Monday to Saturday: 10h00-17h00 and Sundays: 10h00-16h00.

3. Bicycle tours

The bicyle tours offered by Soweto Backpackers, gives visitors a chance to see Soweto, particularly Vilakazi Street, via bicycle.

There are a variety of tours. A two-hour tour takes visitors to some historic sites around Soweto. The four-hour tour is a half-day cycling adventure around the township. Visitors will have the opportunity to get insight into the Soweto uprisings and the resistance against apartheid. Throughout the tour, visitors will be able to have a ‘taste of Soweto’ by stopping at different food stalls and a shebeen (pub) along the route, tasting popular township snacks, food and drinks. The tour will end with traditional beer tasting along with storytelling on African customs and traditions.

The full-day, eight-hour tour gives visitors the opportunity of a lifetime to see and learn more about Soweto's history, visiting all the historic landmarks as well as some of the hidden spots.

Visitors get to experience the hard conditions in the squatter camps and learn what projects are in place to offer a better life for the most underprivileged. They will also see how other parts of the township have grown and developed and how small suburbs with a few ‘mansions’ here and there have popped up.

Places to buy

Visitors to Vilakazi Street are spoilt for choice of stalls and shops to buy from. Clothing stores and art galleries that sell one-of-a-kind, boutique pieces include:

1. Shova Lifestyle Origins

This lifestyle entity caters for local and international visitors by displaying locally made pieces by local artists and entrepreneurs. It is a ‘creative hub’, with a boutique and an art gallery. The boutique houses work from more than 10 designers and the gallery showcases art from five fine artists. Everything is ‘organically and authentically South African’.

2. The Box Shop

Another lifestyle entity, this retail initiative was founded with the objective of solving market access for SMEs. It is a platform for young entrepreneurs to grow their businesses by reaching markets beyond their social influence and positioning themselves in global markets.

3. Stalls and vendors

Vilakazi Street is filled with interesting arts and crafts vendors, as well as traditional African clothing vendors.

Places to eat

The most notable restaurants to eat at on Vilakazi Street are Sakhumzi, Nambitha and Restaurant Vilakazi. All three serve local cuisine.

1. Sakhumzi

The story behind the beginning of the Sakhumzi restaurant is special. Sakhumzi’s began with a group of friends, beers and one special tree. The tree was their home away from home and it offered shade in summer, a place where dreams could be shared and friendships created. Money was put together to buy food and drinks and finally, Sakhumzi decided to formalise the shebeen and trade. The lounge became the eating area, which would run over into the bedrooms and every part of the house. Complete with original doors, walls, flooring and rooms, Sakhumzi Restaurant was born in 2001.

Food on Sakhumzi’s main menu is named after townships in Soweto, an example is Klipspruit Hake, which is 150g deep-fried battered hake fillets, served with tartare sauce and chips.
Booking is essential.

2. Nambitha

A family-run business, with Dr BW Vilakazi’s grandson, Khulani Vilakazi, the owner and founder and Mama Vilakazi as co-founder. It offers a buffet as a well as à la carte menu.

Mama Vilakazi was the head and only chef for a while and the meals offered on the menu are her own recipes. Meals include salads, grills, and seafood.

3. Restaurant Vilakazi

Restaurant Vilakazi, named after the famed street, promises to give visitors an amazing eating experience. Offering both local and Mediterranean menu, this might be what sets it apart from other eating establishments.  Restaurant Vilakazi offers a buffet as well as an à la carte menu.

Restaurant Vilakazi offers visitors traditional dishes such as Mogodu (tripe) and Umleqwa (traditional steamed chicken).