#JoziWalks 2018: Mooki Street, Orlando East, so rich in Heritage

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? 

Walking to Orlando West
Walking to Orlando West to the moving sounds of the acapella Pumla choir. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

Jozi Walks

Once a year the Johannesburg Development Agency used to sponsor free community-led walks in various neighbourhoods, in partnership with community activists, entrepreneurs, tourism operators and heritage specialists. This amazing initiative known as Jozi Walks, allowed Jozi-ites to discover lesser-known parts of the city.  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.  

Stay at Liz at Lancaster Guest House

Stay at our well located Guest House and visit Orlando East, Soweto. View our Rosebank Guest House for Rates and Availability!

Orlando East 

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). 

Map of Orlando East
A terrible ‘home-made map’ . Source: LizatLancaster. Clearly a Guesthouse owner not a draughtswoman! 
1. Scara Sono House
2. DOCC Orlando Community Centre
3. Orlando East Library
4. St. Mary’s Church
5. Orlando Police Station
6. Orlando Magistrates’ Court
7. Orlando East Post Office   8. Orlando Stadium
9. Orlando High School 10. James Mpanza’s house   11. Pelican Hall

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 

Team outside Scara Sono's House
Our group outside Scara Sono’s house with our Orlando guide Sam in the orange vest, Julius “KK” Sono in the blue shirt, Maud on the extreme right and Tshidiso … I don’t know where he is! Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

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! 

Street Art in Orlando East Precinct
Street art in public space (part of the Orlando East Heritage Precinct) indicating the significance for the community of Scara Sono and his son Jono Somo. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

Wending our way down Rathebe St we passed some of the small matchbox houses built in the 1930s when Orlando East was established. 

Matchbox Houses in Soweto
3 roomed matchbox houses which set the standard for township housing for over half a century. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

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

Orlando Community Centre
Orlando Community Centre still bearing the traces of its origins as the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

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.

Panels on Mooki Street  which include the history of the DOCC/Orlando Community Centre. Source of photo (detail of historical text on Mooki Street): www.lizatlancaster.co.za
History of Soweto’s first library from text panel on Mooki Street. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za


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.

James Mpanza 

Mpanza on his Horse
Large photograph on a street post of Mpanza on his horse. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za
Text on Reverse of Photo of Mpanza
Text on the reverse of photo of Mpanza

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. 

Large scale Paintings in Orlando East
Large scale paintings on metal of various scenes relevant to Orlando East in the public space upgraded as part of JDA’s Orlando East Heritage Precinct project. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

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.   

Orlando Stadium 

View of Orlando Stadium
View of Orlando Stadium from Orlando West. Source: www.lizatlancaster.co.za

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.

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