Mandela's Old Street in Soweto Now Scene of New South Africa

Article excerpt

Soweto is South Africa's most famous black township, the center of the anti-apartheid effort, and a key to the start of real democracy in this country.

Situated some 20 miles outside of Johannesburg, Soweto witnessed some of the most momentous struggles and uprisings against the apartheid system. The luminaries who resided in Soweto reads like a who's who of black South Africa: Desmond Tutu, Frank Chikane, and South Africa's first citizen, Nelson Mandela.

Coursing through Soweto is Vilikazi Street, where Mr. Mandela made his home 60 years ago. The street, which used to be filled with tension and often grief as well as protest, is now a tidy, successful tourist destination. There is a Mandela museum, surrounded by hawkers and various performing artists. The iconic street has become a place of restaurants and is pointed to as a path to prosperity in modern day South Africa -- though the unemployment and crime that plague the old South Africa are still here.

Vilikazi of course is well maintained. The city keeps the streetlights clean and lit, and there are none of the broken curbs, litter, and potholes that often seem to define other townships.

Thulani Mbokazi, manager of a restaurant-bar called The Shack Shebeen says the immediate area used to have crime problems and was not safe and well-maintained.

"Now you can walk always on Vilikazi street and there would be nothing wrong," Mbokazi said.

The success of Vilikazi runs roughly parallel with that of Soweto. As apartheid disappeared, the city pushed growth in small businesses, tourism, bars, and the construction of a massive Maponya Mall -- said to be the largest in South Africa.

Jonathan Ramotsei, manager and on-air host for Soweto TV, said the mall and environs are an outgrowth of the town's pride although he also mentions a somewhat smug attitude as well.

"Soweto has progressed rapidly. We've had embedded in us the notion that we're better than other townships," Mr. Ramotsei says with a laugh.

"[We] always have to come with something better."

But its not only tourists in search of history who are visiting Soweto. There's a real nightlife that draws many of the young and newly moneyed to Soweto's clubs and bars. …