Roof-Hopping Through a Beautiful City

I try not to get upset when people refer to Johannesburg as “dangerous”, or “dirty”, or “ugly”. Such attitudes do Joburg a huge disservice, but they usually come from a place of ignorance rather than malice. Most of the people who say these things probably haven’t been into downtown Jozi for years, if ever. And they don’t realize what they’re missing.

I suppose one could argue — in certain specific instances — that Joburg can be dangerous. One could even argue that some parts of Joburg are dirty. (Although most of the city is actually quite clean.)

But…ugly? Nope. Not ever.


Downtown Jozi reflected in a remarkably clear puddle of water.

Yesterday I walked the city from morning until night. I spent most of the day on a walking tour with JoburgPlaces, pounding the pavement between Newtown and Maboneng. Then I met up with a friend and checked out the new graffiti murals under the M1 highway. Then I climbed to the top of a building in the middle of town and took photos with the Instagramers.

Everywhere I went, I saw beautiful things. I’ll have more to say about what I saw, especially on the JoburgPlaces walk, in a future post. But for now I’ll just show you what I saw from the rooftops.

Heather on roof

This is my new favorite Jozi rooftop: 81 Rissik Street. Incidentally, the inside of the building is dirty (it’s about to be refurbished) but the roof is sparkling clean — so clean that I was compelled to lay down on it. (Photo: Tim Van Rooyen)

I’ve climbed onto a crazy number of rooftops around Jozi, especially over the last couple of months. Yesterday alone I climbed four, a couple of which are private and unknown to the public. (I’m f-ing lucky, remember?)

I challenge even the most hardened Jozi-hater to look at these photos and deny that Johannesburg is beautiful. Really now, go ahead and try.

Secret location view

This photo was taken from a secret rooftop location during the JoburgPlaces tour. I can’t tell you now where I took it. All in good time though.

Hillbrow view from Rissik

Hillbrow and the two towers, from the roof of 81 Rissik St.

tower shot

Hillbrow Tower.

Ansteys view from Rissik

Another view from 81 Rissik St. The art deco tower in the middle is the Ansteys Building. The tall building on the left (with the Transnet sign) is the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa.

Andile on the edge

Instagramers like to shoot from high places. This is Andile (@buke_andile).

Rissik St skyline

Instagramer shadows.

Tim silhouette

This is Tim (@timvanrooyen). We shot a lot of silhouettes at 81 Rissik St., because of a weekend challenge issued by Instagram called the Weekend Hashtag Project. (This weekend’s hashtag was “#WHPsilhouettes”.)  Behind Tim is Brixton’s Sentech Tower.

group silhouette

Sunset silhouettes. That’s Gareth (@garethpon) with the camera and Spillly (@spillly) in the hat, and two of Spillly’s friends sitting down. (Spillly is a partial owner of 81 Rissik St. and he is the one who invited us up. #SpilllyIsAwesome,)

Gareth silhouette

Gareth shoots precariously over the edge of 81 Rissik St.

Alessio selfie

The best rooftop shot of the day wasn’t taken by me. Check out this epic self-portrait “jumpstagram” by @alessiolr. I’m in it too — can you see me? (Photo: Alessio La Ruffa)

I rest my case. Jozi is beautiful, people. Deal with it.

My only complaint about Jozi’s rooftops is that so few of them are open to the public. Do you hear me, Jozi rooftop-owners? Start letting the public into your buildings so we can dismantle these silly misconceptions.

Until then, please keep inviting me.

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  • Reply Timmee May 6, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Lovely! Thank you for the attribution! Mwah!

    • Reply 2summers May 6, 2013 at 8:08 pm

      Thank you for the lovely photo. It tells the story.

  • Reply elegsabiff May 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Guilty as charged, but open-minded. The last time I was in downtown JHB my mother’s bag was snatched but I ran after the thief and with the help of streetkids on skateboards, got the bag (which contained all the paperwork which proved she existed, they were welcome to the money!) back. I haven’t been downtown in 15 years? (haven’t been in SA for 12) so if you’re saying all is improving steadily, you’re in the position to know and I’m very glad to hear it, I do follow your blog with interest.

    • Reply 2summers May 6, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I know it’s only logical to feel the way you do after what you experienced. But yes, things are changing, FAST. Things have changed so much even since I got here two and a half years ago. I hope you get the chance to come back soon and see for yourself!

  • Reply Sanjay Dhani May 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Sanjay Dhani and commented:
    Inspiration for another adventure.

  • Reply Sanjay Dhani May 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    Wow. I really love your posts. Provides lots of inspiration to get out there and do new things.

    Thanks again.

  • Reply nenemasebs May 6, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I wasn’t quite sure about blogging but seeing this on my first day has given me hope! Also I’m visiting my fam in Jozi after exams.

  • Reply Anita May 6, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I’m moving to Joburg in August and reading your blog made a big difference to me… thank you for the beautiful pictures and the “other side” of Jozi!

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

      Thanks Anita, I’m glad the blog is helping you!

  • Reply Sine May 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Heather, this is stunning! My favorites are the first and last shots. I totally agree with you. Jozi is beautiful. I mean, what other big city in the world has such clear skies, if nothing else? Your skyline pics are amazing too, especially the one from Rissik St. Wish I still lived there – I’d love to come along on some of your excursions!

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 6:16 am

      Thanks Sine. Those are my favorites too.

  • Reply Charles Visser (@CharlesVisser1) May 7, 2013 at 12:00 am

    You are a Joburg star! I prefer the name Joburg for historical reasons over ‘Jozi’. The most compelling historical reason on the question of the origin of the city’s name is that it was named after the Portuguese king Joao (Google it if you want) by the then president of the ZAR (Zuid Afrikaanche Republiek), Paul Kruger. It is still a mystery who the “Johannes” was but nobody has ever attempted to change it!!! That in itself tells a story. You bring the beauty out. Thanks.

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 6:18 am

      Thanks Chuck. Yes, I actually heard that story about the name on the last JoburgPlaces tour. Very interesting!

      • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm

        I used to feel the same when I first came here. I always said Joburg and not Jozi. Then Jozi started seeping more and more into my subconscious. Next thing I knew I was freely interchanging both words. (Which I do realize is a stylistic no-no.)

    • Reply Sine May 7, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      I agree with you Charles, I much prefer Joburg over Jozi (maybe because I’m the Joburg Expat and not the Jozi Expat:-). Thanks for sharing that tidbit about the name, I didn’t know that and have often wondered too.

  • Reply Domica May 7, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I like seeing what you see, in the light that you see it. I’m a fan

  • Reply mzansigirl May 7, 2013 at 5:44 am

    Lovely pics Heather. I know I’ve said ti before but I really need to get myself on one of these instawalks! Look forward to discovering more secret rooftops in the inner city 🙂

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 6:19 am

      Definitely, Meruschka. Just let me know when you’re ready 🙂

      • Reply Rose April 16, 2019 at 12:01 pm

        Any safe insta walks coming up in Jozi in the next week or so? Great blog.

  • Reply claire May 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

    So cool Heather.This is the stuff of a great travel guide”! Johannesburg unlocked’ or some such. Hope you are well-I miss you!

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks, friend. I miss you too! And by the way, I am actually working on a project similar to the one you just described! xx

  • Reply Justcallmegertie May 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    You know, you couldn’t be more right! I have just been on a tour in Peru, and of course, yes, there are beautiful places in Peru and Machu Picchu took my breath away. But driving back from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco, Peru’s pride and joy, I could not help but think that downtown Jozi beats downtown Cuzco any day of the week. We are our own worst enemies, because the one thing you can say of the Peruvians is that they are extremely proud of their country. We need to show more pride in what we have, highlight the fantastic pluspoints and stop harping about the few negatives.
    Beautiful pictures!

    • Reply 2summers May 7, 2013 at 6:29 pm

      What a lovely comment, Gertie. Thanks. Peru sounds awesome though!

      • Reply Justcallmegertie May 7, 2013 at 6:35 pm

        It is awesome, but I think whenever I travel and I come back, my heart swells with pride for our beautiful country. Can’t wait to be back home!

  • Reply Suze May 9, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    It’s not ugly at all (and certainly not dirty!) I actually liked Joburg a lot. It’s dangerous though and people can’t deny this! Especially tourists shouldn’t run around outside with an expensive camera. Ever heard of car-jacking? Compared to some big western cities Joburg is relatively unsafe that’s why you will find armed forces downtown lol
    Great pictures, I hope you guys went on top of the Carlton center !

    • Reply 2summers May 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Sure, Joburg can be dangerous at times (as I acknowledged at the beginning of my post). However, I’ve been living here for nearly three years and I can say from my own experience that the generalizations about how dangerous Joburg is are greatly, greatly exaggerated. Yes, I’ve heard of carjacking but it has never happened to me, and I fortunately know very few people (in fact I can’t think of anyone) who have been carjacked during the time I’ve lived here. The crimes that do happen tend to be far more petty than that. And I don’t want to jinx myself, but I carry my camera all over town and I’ve never had a problem.

      Yes, we did go to the top of the Carlton. It’s one of my favorite spots in Jozi. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish May 10, 2013 at 1:57 am

    Thank you for letting me feel that I’m getting to know your city. Note to Andile: Are you NUTS??

    • Reply 2summers May 10, 2013 at 6:11 am

      Hahaha. Don’t forget that in order to take that picture I had to sit in the place he was sitting!

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