There are more places in Soweto than Vilakazi Street
Which name is more famous when it comes to tourist and outsider awareness of Soweto: Vilakazi Street or Mooki Street? Have tourists even heard of James Mpanza? Do they know of Soweto’s early beginnings? Or are they simply aware of the ‘only street in the world where 2 Nobel Peace Winners lived’? And is Sakhumzi the sum of their experience of eating in Soweto?
Once a year the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsors free community-led walks in various neighbourhoods, in partnership with community activists, entrepreneurs, tourism operators and heritage specialists. This amazing initiative know as Jozi Walks, allows Jozi-ites to discover lesser-known parts of the city. Over the weekend of the 19th and 20th May, there were 25 walks in 11 different neighbourhoods. Myself and two guests staying at Liz at Lancaster, were privileged to go on the Walk Soweto with Notes with His and Hers Jams – a tour of Orlando East and West focusing on music in this area. But more on the musical aspect of the tour in another blog.
Orlando East was an eye-opener for me. While I ‘kinda’ knew a ‘bit of the history’ … ‘I thought’’ …. ‘sort of’ … and although I did know of Mpanza and his role, I had not internalized this in terms of a spatialized history nor had I visited this area of Soweto. Please excuse the awful home-made map with key below, but the lack of any suitable map shows just how underexposed this area. In fact, finding a usable map of Soweto proved well-nigh impossible (apart from Google maps).
Our tour guide Tshidiso Shetsogwe and his fabulous sidekick Maud Sebola from His and Hers Jams, met us at Constitution Hill where we got into 2 taxis and made our way to Orlando East.
Heritage sites in Orlando East
Outside Scara Sono’s house in Rathebe Street we had a brief chat from his son Julius KK Sono. Scara Sono captained Orlando Pirates in 1957 and used soccer as a political weapon by encouraging white players to play for the team so defying the segregation laws. It seems that KK has caused some internal upsets in recent years by trying to claim that his father Scara was the rightful owner of Orlando Pirates. Scara’s other son, the more famous Jomo Sono of Jomo Cosmos fame has distanced himself from KK’s controversy. Jomo’s life history is another fascinating story. Again for another blog!
Wending our way down Rathebe St we passed some of the small matchbox houses built in the 1930s when Orlando East was established.
Called Orlando after the first chairman of the Native African Affairs Committee, Councillor Edwin Orlando Leake, it, together with Klipspruit, formed the basis of what was to become Soweto (only formally named as such in 1963). With rapid urbanization in the `30s, more housing was required and in 1932 the Johannesburg City Council launched a town planning competition to establish a ‘model native township’. The 3 roomed matchbox houses set the standard for Soweto housing for the next 60 years and even beyond. Building started in Orlando West in 1946.
Mooki Street, rich in heritage signifance
Moving down Rathebe Street, we came to Mooki Street which was declared a heritage site in 2012 and was part of a Johannesburg Development Agency regeneration project from 2013-2015/6. At the corner of Rathebe and Mooki Street is the Orlando Community Centre, built in 1949, originally named the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre (DOCC), after its first sponsor, the Donaldson Trust. It was the first recreational hall in Soweto and hosted many political meetings. The Transvaal ANC Youth League had their annual meeting here in the 1950s and it was here in 1959 that the PAC broke away from the ANC. The Community Centre has also been a major hub for theatre, concerts and community events.
The connection to famous people like Mandela and Miriam Makeba is memorialized in panels on Mooki Street. Mooki Street was named after Bishop Obed Simon David Mooki (1919 to 1990), the founder of the Mooki Memorial College and New Church further down Mooki Street.
Behind the Community Hall is the Public Library opened in 1950 as Soweto’s first purpose-built public library.
Integral to this area is the personality of James Mpanza who has been called the ‘father of Soweto’. Mpanza, a familiar figure on his horse, started the Sofasonke (We shall die together) movement. Forcibly removed from present day Bertrams in the 1930s, Mpanza is memorialized in the heritage discs on Mooki street as well as in the street art in the nearby public area. His house on Hlatswayo Street has been declared a national heritage site.
Further significant sites on or near Mooki Street include the, Orlando High School, the Orlando Police Station, the Orlando Magistrates’ Court and the Orlando Stadium.
This stadium, was built for the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association with a seating capacity of 24 000. It has a very layered history as, apart from football, it’s been used to stage concerts, boxing matches, and was to be the meeting point for the students in June 1976. In 1994 Mandela spoke here on 16th June to mark the anniversary of the Soweto uprising. Joe Slovo’s funeral was held here in 1995, Walter Sisulu’s in 2003 and most recently Winnie Mandela’s in April 2018. From 2008 to 2010 the stadium was demolished and rebuilt with a steel frame at a cost of R280 million. This increased the capacity to 40,000. In 2010, Orlando Stadium hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Kickoff Concert. And it hosted Soweto’s first ever rugby matches when the 2010 Vodacom Super Rugby competition semi-final and final fixtures were played here in 2010. So it has many layers of significance.
Thank you Tshidiso and Maud of His and Hers Jams
So given all this historical importance, it is extraordinary that all the tourist attention and tour operator’s focus is on Vilakazi street and so little is known of this interesting but under-exposed heritage area. Thank you His and Hers Jams for this fascinating day in Orlando.
Next blog: Walking with notes (musical notes this time!): the Pelican Club, the Pumla acapella singers, a serenading saxophonist and lunch at His and Hers Jams!