LOCALS call it London. To the uninitiated it is Orlando East. But whatever you call it, one of the oldest suburb in Soweto has become the township’s double-storey capital.
Forget affluent suburbs like Diepkloof Extension, Pimville, Protea North, Dube and Rockville. While there has been a proliferation of shacks in Orlando East, there are also now more double-storey houses in “London” than in any other part of Soweto.
It no longer amazes to see a state-of-the-art double-storey house cheek by jowl with a red-brick, three-roomed house surrounded by a cluster of shacks.
In a suburb celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, poverty continues to exist next to opulence, although no one can deny it is fast becoming a prosperous urban area that residents are proud of.
Orlando’s double-storey phenomenon is not hard to explain. Since its inception in the early 1930s, the area has been beset with overcrowding problems, which is probably why residents are building upwards.
Described as one of the most densely populated areas of South Africa, Orlando East owes its genesis to the discovery of gold in the late 19th century which brought hundreds of migrant labourers to Joburg.
According to the official website of the City of Joburg, Africans drawn to work on the gold mines were accommodated in separate areas on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
“In 1904, British-controlled city authorities removed African and Indian residents of Brickfields [Newtown] to an evacuation camp at Klipspruit municipal sewage farm following a reported outbreak of plague.
“Two further townships were laid out to the east and the west of Johannesburg in 1918. Townships to the south of Johannesburg followed, starting with Pimville in 1934 and Orlando in 1935.”
Named after a Joburg administrator Edwin Orlando Leake (1925 to 1926), Orlando’s original houses consisted of either two or three rooms. This meant that at night the dining room or kitchen would be turned into a bedroom.
Likely to pleasantly surprise Orlando’s founding fathers, such as James Sofasonke Mpanza who is credited with forming the first civic movement in South Africa called the Sofasonke Party, is the fact that there is now a 22-roomed double storey in the area which is home to crooner Thapelo Mofokeng.
Mofokeng’s “palace” is arguably the biggest double-storey house in Soweto and boasts at least 10 toilets.
Mofokeng belongs to Orlando East’s second generation who are bent on making their suburb one of Soweto’s best. What he enjoys most about his house is the 360º view of the Reef.
From his upper patio he can see as far as Midrand, Krugersdorp and the East Rand, a view he would not trade for anything.
Another remarkably stunning double-storey house with 12 rooms belongs to Thulani Nkosi. He also has a sparkling pool in the garden and a double garage.
But there are yet more such residents. Themba Mndebele said: “We are a big family and the yard was big, which is why we decided to go up. The house has five bedrooms and when we have family gatherings everybody is easily accommodated.
“It is a far cry from the three-room we grew up in,” said Mndebele proudly.
He said the family does not think they over-invested by converting their three-room home to a double-storey house. “This is our home and though we four siblings have our own houses outside Soweto, we decided to invest in it to continue the legacy of our late parents.”
Property consultant Khosi Mngomezulu says some of the double-storey houses in Orlando East can easily fetch close to R1 million or more, although most locals are reluctant to sell.
She said despite the area being shack-infested, it is strategically located and boasts most modern amenities.
“I foresee a situation where in the next 10 years there will be fewer and fewer original red-bricked Orlando homes.
“There is a great ‘revival’ of the township going on and most residents are sprucing up their homes and doing alterations and additions,” she said.
l Orlando East is celebrating its 80th year of existence and has lined up a number of celebrations in the next three months. Events will run until December 16 and include a fun walk/run, a football tournament, beauty pageant, jazz festival, gala dinner and a lunch for senior citizens of the community. Former Joburg mayor Amos Masondo is chairman of the Orlando 80th Anniversary Celebrations Committee.