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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