Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, Soweto, is a tourist hub, world-famous for having two Nobel Prize laureates, former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, call the street home. Tutu is still known to visit his Orlando residence when he is Johannesburg.
Almost 38 years ago, on June 16, the street was the scene of marching schoolchildren on what is now celebrated as Youth Day .The popular street is now a busy business hub, home to restaurants, hair salons, car washes, a museum and informal stalls all looking to make a living.
Red face brick and zinc-roof houses are becoming a thing of the past on Vilakazi Street. Some have been replaced with businesses and double-story restaurants with township views as far as the eye can see. Other houses have been renovated into bigger, more modern homes.
Long-time resident of Vilakazi Street, Shadrack Motau, says that he has had plenty of offers for his property, but will never sell.
“The property prices are definitely pushed up by being on Vilakazi Street. It is normal to find an ordinary three bedroom house costing R800 000 to R1 million. Many of the residents have leased out part of their property for the extra income,” he said.
Motau bought his four-room house in 1977 for R14 500.
It has since been transformed into a three-bedroom house, complete with a home office and concrete slab as a roof. Motau plans to build onto the roof, which has 360 views of Orlando West and the CBD, to open up his own restaurant. The renovation has so far cost approximately R2 million.
Sakhumzi’s restaurant was developed from Maqubela’s family home which he grew up in.
“I saw tour buses filled with tourists go up and down Vilakazi Street in the new democratic country. I saw an opportunity for us to be able to offer traditional African cuisine to tourists, as well as for local ‘Sowetans’ to stop going to town for entertainment, but to stay [in the township],” he said.
Nambitha restaurant, owned by the Vilakazi family of which the street is named after, adds credance to the competition in the area.
But it seems opinions are mixed as to whether or not trade is stable.
For local vendors business in Vilakazi Street can be unstable and unpredictable which has a direct impact on income.
“Business tends to be seasonal because there are a lot of new entrants into this type of business,” says [resident] Sontu Vilakazi.
Tour buses are a welcomed sight, as businesses on Vilakazi Street are ‘tourist-dependent’ says a vendor who prefers not to be named.
“You never know when the tourists will come. We just hope they come because we don’t get as much support from locals,” he says.
“I’d rather be working underground in the mines, especially with the R12 500 [minimum wage] they are asking for. I’d work there any day,” he adds.
However, the neighbour of Archbishop Tutu and owner of Sakhumzi restaurant, Sakhumzi Maqubela, has a different opinion, and says his business would still do well if it wasn’t a popular tourist destination.
“After being in business for 12 years we have built up a good reputation and a stable client base that continues to grow,” he said.
This definitely seems like a spot to watch.