“Joburg is more Brooklyn than Brooklyn.”

Today I took my American friend Bob, who is in Joburg this week for work, to the Maboneng Precinct. Bob passed through Joburg a few times before, back in 2010 and 2011. But this is the first time I’ve had the chance to properly show him around the city, and the first time he’s been to Maboneng.

I parked near the top of Fox Street at around 11:30 a.m. I took Bob over to Curocity Backpackers and introduced him to my friend Bheki Dube. We meandered down Fox Street, admiring the technicolor graffiti murals and browsing outdoor clothing stalls in the early summer sun, and made our way to Market on Main.

Bob marvelled at the selection of dried meats, tasted some fresh bread, and admired the eight-layer red velvet cake.

We stood in the landing on the stairs, gazing out over the crowd and inhaling the tangy scent of paella. Bob grabbed my wrist.

“Heather,” he whispered, eyes shining. “I had no idea.”

The-Evolved-Man

“Evolved men” (and one evolved woman) hawking trendiness on the sidewalk outside Market on Main.

We went upstairs and sifted through stylish beaded bracelets handmade by a young man named Lizwe from Soweto. I introduced Bob to iwasshot in joburg and we sipped lemonade spiked with mint. Then we headed down to Origin Coffee Roasting, where we enjoyed iced coffee and engaged with Maq, the assistant manager, in an in-depth discussion about cold-brewing.

Matt-and-Bob

Maq (left) and Bob (right).

We stepped back out onto Fox. The street was pumping. Clothing vendors and street performers lined both sides of the road. A yellow VW Bus, advertising something called #Churn2015, cruised around and around the block, blaring house music. A makeshift lounge — complete with a sofa slipcovered in gold lamé, was balanced atop the bus. Each time the bus passed it had more occupants — some dreadlocked, some turbaned, some with just regular hair — rocking out to the beat and flashing peace signs.

Churn-van

I’m not sure what was happening here.

Bob and I took our time walking back up Fox, stopping to listen to a blind guitar player in a shiny purple suit. I slipped an R10 note into his cup, which he promptly pocketed. His name, we would learn, is Radio25.

Radio25

“This is Radio25,” he boomed at the end of each song. “And the beat goes on…”

While listening to Radio25 belt out a rousing rendition of Hey Jude, we chatted to Radio25’s colleague, Ocean. Ocean and Radio25 are both from Zimbabwe and Ocean was overjoyed to hear that Bob has just returned from Harare.

Ocean

Ocean and Radio25.

“I make those bags,” Ocean said, pointing at a display just down the street. “Each bag is one-of-a-kind, just like a human being.”

Ocean-bags

Ocean and his one-of-a-kind bags. Ocean also sells in Braamfontein on Saturdays. You can reach him at 073-133-0944; he also does bookings for Radio25.

The day wasn’t over. We had a cocktail at Lenin’s Vodka Bar and a pita from Soul Souvlaki. We visited the Shadow boxer mural and stopped for a quick drink at the Zebra Inn.

We did an extended photo-shoot in front of the Nelson Makamo paintings along Van Beek Street.

Nelson-Makamo-and-guys

These two guys asked us to take their photo. “Shoot us!” they called. They conveniently match the mural.

Nelson-Makamo-and-Bob

We’re probably not the first people to do this.

By the time we got back to the car, it was 5:30 p.m. We never even made it to the Living Room.

“Joburg is more Brooklyn than Brooklyn,” said Bob, at some point earlier in the day.

I confess that although I’ve been to New York City many times, I’ve never been to Brooklyn. But Bob is not the first person to draw this comparison. I take it as a compliment.

Nelson-Makamo-and-Heather

Photo: Bob Yule.

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13 Comments

  • Reply mvschulze August 31, 2015 at 4:28 am

    Facinating view of a “colorful” world we never knew. Thanks, Nice work! M 🙂

  • Reply jenty August 31, 2015 at 6:57 am

    I love Maboneng, I need to go again 🙂

  • Reply femmegypsy August 31, 2015 at 7:42 am

    This is great! Sometimes we need to see our city through someone else’s eyes 🙂

  • Reply drcolettegordon August 31, 2015 at 10:52 am

    I love Joburg. But Maboneng is abut 6 city blocks. In Brooklyn, no security guard is going to tell you not to step outside the bounds of the urban theme park.

    • Reply 2summers August 31, 2015 at 11:27 am

      Well, this particular post is just about Maboneng. But there is a lot more to Joburg than just those few city blocks. Check out the rest of my blog 🙂

      • Reply gussilber August 31, 2015 at 10:10 pm

        Joburg is an easy walk these days, all the way from the bottom of Fox Street to Maboneng in the east, and Newtown and Braamfontein too. I used to live right in the heart of town in the 80s, and the only time I ever had a problem was when some guy asked me what the time was, and then swiftly slapped my watch off my wrist and sprinted away.

        • Reply 2summers August 31, 2015 at 10:18 pm

          Yep, I’ve done that walk all the way up Fox Street. It’s a pretty good workout.

  • Reply graeme2k August 31, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    It’s refreshing–and a great relief–to read something positive about urban Joburg, what with all the horror stories circulating in the media. And Alan Paton’s widow fleeing RSA in terror.

    • Reply 2summers August 31, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      I hadn’t heard about Alan Paton’s widow. Need to read up on that.

  • Reply Konrad August 31, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    As usual, sad that Alan Paton’s widow’s comments from 1998, yes, 17 years ago (!) makes headlines! Joburg is a great city!

    • Reply 2summers September 1, 2015 at 10:40 am

      Ha! That explains it.

  • Reply gussilber August 31, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Great post, Heather, and terrific pictures. I always think Maboneng and Juta Street in Braamfontein are very New Yorky. But oddly enough, when I was in New York a few months ago, it didn’t remind me of Joburg at all!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish September 3, 2015 at 1:35 am

    I saw at least three bags that I want, and I can NEVER find one I like. Love the guys in front of the mural. Good work!

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