By Thembelani Moyo
Famously known as the only street which has produced two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Vilakazi Street today stands as a worldwide tourist attraction with arts giving it vibrancy.
A visit to the street sees a tourist warmly welcomed by a number of dance groups which sing and dance to local music.
One of the groups, Isizwe Gumboot Dancers, starts dancing for tourists who come in buses and small cars to the car park. The members of the group include Vincent Ncabashe, Sifiso Maluleka, Gregory Khumalo, Thabang Tee Mdletshe, Nkosilathi Mlangeni and Bong’kwanda Mnikathi.
Clad in black gumboots, black pairs of trousers and red headgear, the group dances to their songs such as Ingoma, Lets Unite, Jazz in Time, Stop Violence, Imfulayana, a Shangan rain song, Indlozi and Mandela song.
They also sing other Imbube songs such as Shosholoza.
The group leader, Ncabashe, said he joined the group in 2015 when his contract with another group expired.
“Gumboots group was formed in 2007 and made up of young men who have potential. I said to myself let me join them. I introduced new songs, new routines and here we are still pushing forward,” he said
“We dance for tourists here at Vilakazi Street. We sometimes perform at corporate functions when we get hired. There is a project that we did called Ingoma. There was a saxophone, marimba, dance tunes and Zulu traditional moves. We are here to market what we do. Anyone with a function can hire us and offer us anything. Our aim is to find a platform where we can perform,” Ncabashe added.
Isizwe group can be contacted on email@example.com or 071727650.
Apart from performing groups, Vilakazi Street has scores of artists and street vendors who sell artifacts such as sculptures, bangles, rings and traditional garments to tourists.
One of the vendors said though some of the artifacts are made in South Africa, they buy some of the sculptures from countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Kenya.
“I started in 2013 after doing a research on how I can employ myself. I saw that a lot of visitors were coming to see Mandela House and some people were selling artifacts. I decided to join them. I started selling T-Shirts written Soweto, but then decided to expand the business and include sculptures,” said Themba Dube one of the street vendors who spend their days on Vilakazi Street.
Dube said the art pieces show lifestyles and different cultures that are found both in South Africa and the African continent.
Vilakazi Street’s vibrancy is also enhanced by the presence of the former President and icon Nelson Mandela’s house which was turned into a museum.
The four-roomed home houses various memorabilia, artworks, awards and honorary doctorates conferred on Mandela and his family as well as photographs of the family dating back to the 1950s.
The museum attracts tourists from all over the world who come to view historical artifacts and learn history at a price ranging from R60 and below.
Mandela House Museum supervisor Busisiwe Mahlabe said: “When Mandela started his political activism, he was staying in this house. It is now a museum where people pay entrance fees to see and learn about Mandela’s history. We teach them about Mandela from the day he was born until his death. Tourists come from Europe, Africa, America, Asia and all over the world. However, we would like to see more of Sowetans coming so that we as locals we keep Mandela’s legacy alive.”
Other historical and arts places in Vilakazi include the Hector Peterson museum, Desmond Tutu’s house and Tuendelee Africa.
Vilakazi Street also has restaurants, bars and schools.
Among the restaurants are Sakhumzi, Vuyo’s and Mandela Family Restaurant. There are businesses such FlySAWise, tuck shops and events managing companies.
Schools include Orlando West High School and Phefeni Senior Secondary School.
The street was named after Dr BW Vilakazi who was a poet, novelist and intellectual, who wrote in numerous indigenous languages.
He was also the first black man to teach at the University of the Witwatersrand.