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NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDE

A guide to local favorites in Orlando West, Soweto

  • By Pumza Fihlani
  • Photos by Gulshan Khan
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Orlando West, Soweto
Johannesburg
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Vilakazi Street, one of South Africa’s most popular thoroughfares, is home to Nelson Mandela’s old house in Orlando West, Soweto. While it is typically abuzz with tourists, farther up the street — what locals call “upper Vilakazi” — one can find a quiet ambiance and a range of restaurants that double as lounge bars when the sun sets. They boast a spectrum of South African music, and it would be a sin not to dance while visiting the area.

Meet Pumza Fihlani

Pumza has lived in Johannesburg since 2006. She describes herself as a small town girl, having grown up in Mthatha, South Africa, in the countryside. She moved to the city as an intern, fell in love with its lights and never left. She loves city life but misses the clear night sky in the Eastern Cape province — and the sense of community there.

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Orlando West, Soweto

Nelson Mandela House
No trip to Soweto would be complete without a visit to the home of the iconic Nelson Mandela. The small brick-face house has been converted into a museum and provides a window into who Mandela was before the world came to know him as a political prisoner and later as South Africa’s first black president. The home is a reminder of the country’s painful history, but it also stands as a symbol of how much has changed. It is a celebration of freedom.
Nelson Mandela House, 8115 Vilakazi St., Orlando West, Soweto 1804
Restaurant Vilakazi
The best way to experience the true essence of any city is to be with the locals and to eat where they eat. South African food is as diverse as its people, but thanks to Johannesburg’s multicultural status, visitors can sample various cuisines in one sitting. Vilakazi offers a taste of some of the best traditional food the country has to offer.
Restaurant Vilakazi, 6876 Vilakazi St., Orlando West, Johannesburg 1804
The Box Shop
Two floors built entirely from shipping containers are where accessory makers, clothing designers and artists create the magic that is Soweto-inspired fashion — a fresh and honest take on current fashion trends. It’s a contemporary space that’s hard to miss. Don’t leave without checking out Skinny Sbu Socks, a favorite with local celebrities. Rumor has it Richard Branson is a fan.
The Box Shop, 7166 Vilakazi St., Orlando West, Soweto 1804
Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum
The Hector Pieterson memorial stands as tribute to the role of students in the struggle against apartheid, an oppressive system that denied the majority black population basic human rights. In 1976, thousands of schoolchildren, some as young as 13, took part in a demonstration to protest instruction in Afrikaans, a language they did not understand, and the poor quality of education in black schools. Although it was a peaceful gathering, hundreds were shot and killed by the apartheid police. This monument stands as a reminder to young South Africans of their voice and power.
Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, 8287 Khumalo Rd., Orlando West, Johannesburg 1804
Vilakazi Street Market
For those looking to take a piece of Soweto home with them, this entire street is lined with bold handmade crafts and “I love Soweto” merchandise. The selection can be overwhelming, but so much variety means you’ll find precisely the right gift or keepsake.
Vilakazi Street, Orlando West, Soweto 1804
Pumza Fihlani
Pumza has lived in Johannesburg since 2006. She describes herself as a small town girl, having grown up in Mthatha, South Africa, in the countryside. She moved to the city as an intern, fell in love with its lights and never left. She loves city life but misses the clear night sky in the Eastern Cape province — and the sense of community there.
Gulshan Khan
Gulshan is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Johannesburg.
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