Vilakazi Street is in Soweto, but it doesn’t always seem of Soweto.
To outsiders, it is the most famous stretch of real estate in the township – a status guaranteed to it as the place both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu once called home, and as the heart of the precinct associated with Hector Pieterson and the student uprising of 1976. As a result it’s tourist-oriented, full of curios and lined with mildly overpriced restaurants. In many ways, Vilakazi Street is to Soweto what Cape Town is to South Africa (for one thing, it’s where white people seem to feel most comfortable).
But that’s not to say the residents of Orlando East aren’t terribly proud of it. Or that the beautiful and good of greater Soweto don’t enjoy hanging out there on evenings and weekends. Well-known cities – and really, Soweto is a city in its own right, not a township – inevitably take on a rather clichéd iconography; Vilakazi Street meets this need no less than the Calabash, the Orlando Towers, Regina Mundi in Rockville or Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown.