Hiking Joburg’s Main Drag

Joe and I took a walk through Joburg’s Central Business District – starting at the Carlton Centre and then east on Main Street to the Magistrates Court.

A view of downtown from Gandhi Square. The Carlton Centre is the building to the left of the Daily Sun sign. You wouldn’t know from this picture but it’s the tallest building in Africa at 223 meters.

There’s a rejuvenation story here although it’s not the same story as Arts on Main, which is a few blocks east. This section of Main Street houses banks, government agencies, and, above all else, international mining companies. It’s where Big Business lives.

Ten years ago, the only people who came here were office workers (who came and went in their cars), mining magnates (who came and went in helicopters from the tops of their buildings), and poor people and gangsters who lived on the streets.

Today, Main Street is a nice place to spend an afternoon. Walk with me.

We parked at the Carlton Centre and walked two blocks up Main Street to Gandhi Square (formerly Van Der Bijl Square), where people were enjoying lunch below the Gandhi statue. Gandhi lived in Joburg from 1903 to 1913, advocating for the rights of South African Indians.

Gandhi Square was recently an inner city wasteland. But it was redeveloped in the late 1990s and the huge bus terminal in the center of the square was renovated.

The bus terminal in the square is patrolled by 24-hour security. Officer Dlamini requested a photo with his vehicle. Officer, I hope you’re reading this!

After Gandhi Square, Main Street is closed to traffic for the next several blocks.

Nice green space near the Nedbank offices along Main Street.

There isn’t much nightlife along this stretch, but there are lots of coffee shops for 9-to-5ers in need of caffeine. We stopped for a cup at Cramers Coffee.

Cappuccino (very good) and a chocolate-pecan brownie (not so good) from Cramers. Cramers buys its beans from Bean There, a local coffee place near Melville that I’ll write about sometime soon.

You know you’ve reached the mining precinct when you start seeing massive mining machinery turned into art. This mining headgear near the intersection of Main and Ferreira Streets was dismantled and brought here from Rustenburg Platinum Mines. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

This section of Main Street feels like the safest place in the world – there are more security guards than pedestrians. (Mining companies don’t mess around with safety.) As Joe photographed the headgear, I had a nice conversation with two guards who wanted to know if there are cows in America.

Headquarters for Anglo American PLC, one of the world’s largest mining companies.

Joe shoots pictures of the beautiful and controversial “Impala Stampede” outside Anglo American. The statue, which Harry Oppenheimer donated to the city in 1960, used to reside in nearby Oppenheimer Park. But the park became dilapidated in the 1990s and the statue was eventually relocated to Main Street after multiple vandalism incidents. Oppenheimer Park is currently being rehabilitated.

Crossing Harrison Street on our way back to the car.

I have a lot more to learn about downtown Joburg. Expect lots more about it in future posts.

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31 Comments

  • Reply Jaco Roets February 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Hi there!

    So glad you ventured into the CBD. It has amazing gems hidden away – and it is such a pity that more people don’t venture in. The city has come a long way since 2000. 10 years ago it would not have been advisable to walk in the city at all. Today it is so much better. Oppenheimer Park is finished by the way, and it looks stunning. There is also an opportunity to see the ghostly remains of the Post Office Building, that burned down in 2009. The Barbican (the first “skyscaper” in the city) has also been restored, and it looks amazing. The Library is undergoing renovations, but it is also a great place to see. And go to the Guildhall Pub. Great place to have a beer after a long day’s walk! I can’t to see my beloved Jozi again!

    • Reply 2summers February 23, 2011 at 10:19 pm

      Wow, thanks so much for all the suggestions! And thanks for reading. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures in Dayton.

    • Reply S February 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      What a lovely blog… 🙂

      Does somebody know what is planned to happen with the Rissik Street Post Office building?

      • Reply 2summers February 27, 2011 at 2:38 pm

        Thank you! I’m not sure about the post office. Joe has pointed it out to me but as far as I know there’s nothing happening yet.

  • Reply Mia February 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    We did that exact walk through town a while ago. My husband and I love the city and love showing our friends the gems to be found there. I would recommend Lucky Moo on Gandhi Square for lunch, the Guildhall pub, cnr Market and Harrison Street, for an ice cold beer on the balcony (it is the oldest pub in Jozi), and coffee at Pino’s (cnr Simmonds and Fox). But keep exploring the city and discovering cool places!

    So awesome. Your blog makes me want to blog about Jozi right now. Wish we were there.

    • Reply 2summers February 23, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      I saw that place in Gandhi Square. Someone else was just telling us about it too — will have to try next time. Where did you guys live in Jozi?

      • Reply Jaco Roets February 23, 2011 at 11:17 pm

        We still have our apartment in Killarney.

  • Reply Francis February 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the walk, very nice and interesting. I knew about the “Impala Stampede” statue but was wondering once what had happened to it. 🙂

    • Reply 2summers February 23, 2011 at 10:21 pm

      Wow, news of the impala stampede made it to Wawa! I had never heard of it until yesterday. It’s an amazing piece of artwork.

      • Reply Francis February 24, 2011 at 1:45 am

        Believe it or not , yes i know about it for many years. and how it was stolen from the old Oppenheimer Park. That statue had been a well know tourist attraction for years before the downfall of the whole area. Am genuinely happy to see it again.
        BTW I did not live all my life in Wawa and education in the arts is everywhere for the seekers in the global village we are part of i believe 🙂 .

        • Reply 2summers February 24, 2011 at 8:10 am

          I’ve just read my comment and realized it sounded very insensitive. Sorry about that 🙂

          I am still impressed that you knew about the statue though. I searched for information about it online and found very little.

  • Reply eremophila February 24, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Very interesting. I am surprised at the lack of air pollution, very nice! It also reminds me a bit of Adelaide, in South Australia. But the new bus terminal there is a complete waste of taxpayers money! Hope Joburg’s fares better, no pun intended:-)

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2011 at 8:19 am

      We were at the bus terminal at lunch time and there wasn’t a single bus – it was weird. I guess they only run at lunch hour. I do think it’s fairly heavily used though. Joburg does have pretty bad pollution sometimes but that day was pretty clear.

  • Reply Tilly Bud February 24, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I can’t wait!

    I know I’ve walked down Main Street but none of it looks familiar to me at all.

    Any chance you can do Hillbrow? Only if it’s safe, of course.

    • Reply 2summers February 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      I’m very curious to learn more about Hillbrow. It’s not super-safe I don’t think — I’ve only driven through a couple of times. I need to investigate though. It’s an interesting area and I’m sure there are walking tours you can take.

      • Reply Slowvelder February 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

        I lived in Hillbrow in the early 90’s but after that it really went downhill and I was to scared to go there at all. I would be interested to see how it has changed.

      • Reply Jaco Roets February 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

        Snowvelder – Hillbrow is looking marginally better. It is much safer than 5 years ago, but still pretty rough! Some of the main streets have been redone with new pavements, streetlights and street art. But it is still pretty grimy! The Constitutional Court is opening up a gateway to Hillbrow, and the new Hospital Precinct will make a big difference. But Exclusive Books, Mi-vami, Fourno’s and places like the Cafe Zurich are long gone. Hillbrow will never be what it used to be. But places change, not always for the better. Many of the abandoned and burnt-out apartment buildings are getting revamped into housing, and a real sense of community is returning to the area. Berea is looking better. Yeoville is vibrant and alive, but very different from what it was. Sadly very few northern Johannesburgers will ever realize what they are missing out on. It is interesting, because in Dayton, Ohio the same thing is happening. You have urban sprawl to the South because people are afraid of the city center and surrounding neighbourhoods.

  • Reply Slowvelder February 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    As a child we used to catch the train into JHB city center to get our school shoes or to visit the dentist. It was usually a whole day adventure for us. The impala statue used to always intrigue me although I am sure I thought they were father Christmas’s reindeer 🙂
    The last time I was in the city was in 2000 I think. Time to visit again when I am in the area again,

    • Reply 2summers February 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

      Yes, urban decay/renewal is a global story. Washington has seen the same transitions.

  • Reply Jerome west March 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Rissik Street Post Office building was badly damaged by fire some time ago and just the shell remains. It is up restoration but don’t know when.

  • Reply Jerome west March 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Rissik Street Post Office building was badly damaged by fire some time ago and just the shell remains. It is up restoration but don’t know when.

  • Reply Gite October 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Thats an all ’round good post

  • Reply Gite October 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Thats an all ’round good post

  • Reply Dina January 8, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Wonderful blog – thank you! We just visited South Africa and Joburg first time in my life in Dec 2011. Very impressive – lots of information to digest and lots of emotions still… Working on my pictures now. Impala Stampede is one of the most beautiful sculptures! I loved it – couldn’t tear myself away from it! I kept thinking about it even when visited Kruger and saw real impalas in abundance. Just proved that the stampede is a real piece of art!

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks Dina, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The stampede is indeed a beautiful sculpture.

  • Reply Dina January 8, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Wonderful blog – thank you! We just visited South Africa and Joburg first time in my life in Dec 2011. Very impressive – lots of information to digest and lots of emotions still… Working on my pictures now. Impala Stampede is one of the most beautiful sculptures! I loved it – couldn’t tear myself away from it! I kept thinking about it even when visited Kruger and saw real impalas in abundance. Just proved that the stampede is a real piece of art!

    • Reply 2summers January 8, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Thanks Dina, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. The stampede is indeed a beautiful sculpture.

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