Welcome to Week 11 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Box Shop, a shopping center and coffee shop on Vilakazi Street in Soweto.
A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Andile, a.k.a. @may_i_take_apicture, to talk about a new project he’s working on called Imagine Soweto. Andile is cycling 150 kilometers around Soweto and taking 150 pictures — about four pictures for each of Soweto’s 38 townships.
Andile was looking for some advice on blogging for his Imagine Soweto project. I agreed to give him some in exchange for an introduction to a new place in Soweto for my #Gauteng52 project. We wound up having coffee at the Box Shop, a relatively new development built from shipping containers on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.
Vilakazi Street is legendary as the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners (President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) lived at the same time. Vilakazi is one of Joburg’s biggest tourist attractions — some might say too touristy. The eastern end of the street is often choked with buses unloading foreigners eager to visit Mandela’s former home and eat an overpriced meal.
I’ve never thought of Vilakazi Street as an area where local Sowetans meet up and hang out with each other. That is, until I visited the Box Shop, which is about half a kilometer up Vilakazi Street from the busy area around Mandela’s house.
The downstairs half of the Box Shop is a small store selling locally made clothing and design items. The upstairs is a coffee shop/café called Kofi Afrika. That’s it. (Although when I was there in February it looked like there were a couple of new spaces under development.) Nothing fancy but the place has a nice vibe. It feels local.
Overlooking Vilakazi Street from the balcony of Kofi Afrika.
I met Andile for coffee at Kofi Afrika on a quiet Saturday afternoon. There were about half a dozen people there, pecking at laptops and sipping caffeinated drinks. (The Box Shop has free wifi.) I ordered an iced coffee and it was great — good African coffee, ice, and milk. This was a major discovery because decent iced coffee (as in actual coffee and not sugary, coffee-flavoured milkshakes) is nearly impossible to find in Johannesburg.
Kofi Afrika has a simple food menu — a few sandwiches and salads — but I didn’t try the food. There is also a great view looking down on the Vilakazi Street action.
Andile and I stopped briefly at the shop downstairs but I didn’t have time to take a proper look. I did meet Ben, the owner and creator of the Box Shop.
We were in a hurry to get outside because there was a dance troupe coming up the street and Andile and I wanted to take pictures. The dancers were all girls, accompanied by boys playing drums, and they had matching outfits and batons. In America we would call them majorettes but I’m not sure what they’re called in South Africa.
The troupe was led by a tiny girl who looked hardly old enough to walk, let alone dance. She was probably the cutest dancer I’ve ever seen, and she had attitude.
These girls were rocking it and they must have been HOT. It was sweltering that afternoon. I asked around but couldn’t figure out where the dancers come from. They collected donations in a hat, which I happily contributed to.
So this is what I love about the Box Shop. It’s far enough away from the touristy madness that I could enjoy a tasty, affordable iced coffee in peace. It was close enough to the touristy madness that I could enjoy the overflow street entertainment. All of this, combined with pleasant conversation about blogging and photography, made for a perfect afternoon.
The Box Shop is at 7166 and 7176 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West. Follow them on Facebook or call +27-11-048-9900 for more information. You can also follow Kofi Afrika on Facebook or call +27-84-665-2400.