The Box Shop exterior

#Gauteng52, Week 11: A New Take on Vilakazi Street

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 BhalaAndile Bhala, a.k.a. the Man With the Red Bag, in his home township of Orlando West.

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.

The Box Shop exteriorThe Box Shop on Vilakazi Street.

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.

Kofi Coffee at the Box Shop on Vilakazi StreetOverlooking 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.

Iced coffee from Kofi AfrikaMy iced coffee. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture before stirring it up — iced coffees look much prettier pre-stir.

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.

View of Vilakazi Street from Kofi AfrikaThe view over the western end of Vilakazi Street from Kofi Afrika. Vibey but not too crowded.

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.

Ben at the Box ShopThis is Ben. I only met him for about 30 seconds but he seemed really nice. The clothes looked beautiful too.

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.

Dancers on Vilakazi StreetThe dancers. Those tiny velcro sneakers…I die.

DancersThese 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.

Little girl dancerI see big things in this kid’s future.

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.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Richard Goller March 14, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Been hearing so much about Vilakazi Street, how it’s become such a cool spot in recent years, from Uber drivers. Cool pics!

    • Reply 2summers March 14, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      Oh yes, it’s so busy there. Definitely the busiest tourist attraction in Jozi, except perhaps for the apartheid museum and Nelson Mandela Square.

  • Reply autumnashbough March 14, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Great photo of the lead dancer. You caught all the cute, and all the attitude.

    • Reply 2summers March 14, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      It was hard to miss.

  • Reply Leizl Eykelhof March 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    Lovely! We call them drum majorettes too…

    • Reply 2summers March 14, 2017 at 10:10 pm

      That’s good to know 🙂

  • Reply Caitlin Jean Geel March 15, 2017 at 7:00 am

    I absolutely love this #Gauteng52 project and enjoy reading the blog-post. Thank you so much! It makes me proud to be a South African expat and sometimes even makes me miss my Jozi-home. Keep on going 🙂

    • Reply 2summers March 15, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Thank you so much, Caitlin. I really appreciate that. I hope you can come home soon for a visit.

  • Reply Lani March 17, 2017 at 7:57 am

    “pecking at their laptops” 😀

    The more I see of Saffa, the more I want to go! Although, I’m so in love with the clothes, the fabrics, the colors and prints <3 more than going on safari or something. Great snaps, as usual 😉

    • Reply 2summers March 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      Please come! I’ll take you to all the best fabric shops.

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