Stolen Shots of Hillbrow

My recent tour of Ponte City, hosted by Mainstreetwalks and Dlala Nje, included a Saturday-afternoon stroll in Hillbrow. I go to Hillbrow at least a couple of times a week for boxing training but I don’t walk around the neighborhood with my camera very often, especially not on weekends when the streets are most busy. So I was excited for this opportunity.

Art deco apartment block in Hillbrow.

This tour was not a photowalk though. Our guides, worried about theft, strongly discouraged us from bringing cameras on the walk at all, and insisted that we all stick close together while walking. I ignored the first recommendation, of course, but I didn’t want to act like a jerk and hold up the group by stopping every ten feet to set up a shot. So I kept up with the group as best I could and stole quick shots as I walked.

There was a lot going on and it was painful to pass up so many great photo ops. But my “walk-by” photography strategy yielded interesting results. Here are some of my favorites.

You can buy pretty much anything in Hillbrow on a Saturday afternoon. This mom-and-baby pair patronizes a street-side shop selling an interesting combo of airtime and pampers.

Popcorn, candy, cookies, cigarettes, African herbs, phone cards, pumice stones…and hair-styling.

Foot traffic.

Hillbrow Tower, also known as the Telkom Tower, reportedly the tallest structure in Africa. We stopped here for a few minutes so I didn’t have to do a walk-by shooting. I think my fellow tour participants were all kicking themselves for leaving their cameras behind.

Zama Pawn Shop + Gogo’s Twinkle Bell Day & Night Care.

The Summit Club, one of Joburg’s most famous strip clubs.

Tomatoes: R3.50.

Live chickens: R75.

Our group caused quite a stir when we walked past these guys drinking at an outdoor pub. They busted me for sneaking their photo under the fence.

These tours are becoming a regular thing. There’s another one happening today, and as far as I know Dlala Nje and Mainstreetwalks are the only groups doing guided walks in Hillbrow. Keep an eye on their Facebook pages for updates.

I know that the vast majority of Joburgers are still terrified of setting foot in Hillbrow. But really, people, you’re missing out. This is one of the most interesting places in town, if not in all of Africa. (In fact, I learned on the tour that Hillbrow is the most densely populated place on the continent. That makes for a lot of interesting things to see.) Check it out. I promise you won’t regret it.

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18 Comments

  • Reply melo1230 November 24, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Culture Welfare of Melo에서 이 항목을 퍼감.

  • Reply Alexius November 24, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Awesome photographs!!!

  • Reply Dibbs_ZA November 24, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    I love the tower halo and if I wasn’t at my companies year end function I would have been on the walk today. 🙁

    • Reply 2summers November 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks Gary! I think maybe the walk didn’t happen today because of the rain. Not totally sure though.

  • Reply Ashley November 25, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Love the shot of the pawn shop! I’m glad you took your camera.

  • Reply rose2852 November 25, 2012 at 7:55 am

    My memories of Hillbrow are from the 60’s and my main memory is of the Hillbrow pool, a 20m (I think) long pool that you got to by walking down stairs into the bowels of a building. I understand it’s no longer there. Great pics, btw.

    • Reply 2summers November 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the memories 🙂

  • Reply Emily Cannell November 26, 2012 at 1:03 am

    I like how they stack the tomatoes!

    • Reply 2summers November 26, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      I know! Classic Joburg.

  • Reply Stuart November 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Hi I absolutely love this site, I lived in Hillbrow from 1974 to 1987 and miss it like crazy, I don’t know why but I do. Are you on Facebook ? If you are please contact me Stuart weir. I know live in England Worcester . I would like to ask a favour. Please reply even if your not interested. Thank you

  • Reply NP December 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm


    I follow your blog from the states and thought you might like this mini doc about Hillbrow. Pretty cool seeing how the neighborhood is going through another change in character as we speak. That old Jewish lady made the doc for me.

    • Reply 2summers December 10, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks NP! I know this documentary well. The boxing trainer in the story, George Khosi, is my coach 🙂

      • Reply NP December 14, 2012 at 10:33 pm

        That is awesome! So do you think gentrification will make the area become more like the old days or will the area still maintain that gritty vibe? What about areas like observatory, are they still fairly pleasant? Thanks for answering my random questions

        • Reply 2summers December 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

          Hi there,

          No, I don’t believe that Hillbrow will ever be “gentrified”. And I certainly don’t think it will ever be “like the old days” again. I wasn’t here during those days, but anyone who visits Hillbrow — or anywhere in Joburg, for that matter — can plainly see that those days are gone forever. But that doesn’t mean Hillbrow can’t be a vibrant, exciting, and even safe place to live. Things have already changed a lot during the time I’ve lived in Jozi, and in the few years before that, from what I’ve heard.

          I’ve seen true gentrification happening in places like Washington D.C., and what is happening here in Jozi is nothing like that. I think of it more as “urban transformation” than gentrification. Which I think is actually much more all-encompassing and promising for the future. But I am not an urban planner, an economist, or a sociologist, so this is just my random opinion as an occasional observer. I hope it makes some kind of sense. I could ramble on much longer but I think then I would need to create a new blog post.

          I’m sorry but I don’t really know anything about the Observatory neighborhood. But I will say that there are many pleasant areas in Joburg! Observatory is very likely one of them.

          Thanks for the comment,
          Heather

  • Reply Marc Latilla June 20, 2013 at 8:14 am

    Thanks for the follow!
    I lived in Guildford Court in the early 90s…in fact, that’s where I met my wife (she lived in the flat below me). We moved out of Hillbrow in 95 and we’ve been in Melville now for the last 11 years. I recently took a set of photos of Hillbrow which will be published on my blog later this year. I find taking a 6am (in summer) Sunday morning runs the best way to get pictures without hassle. Need to get a few more actually…

    • Reply 2summers June 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

      Hi Marc, thanks for the comment. Sounds like we share some similar interests. I’m looking forward to following your blog too.

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