On Saturday I helped organize an Instameet at a building called Bjala Square in Jeppestown, one of the most historic sections of downtown Johannesburg. It was cold and pouring rain — a rare occurrence in early winter — and I wondered if we should even go through with the Instameet. I’m glad we did.
I’d been wanting to do a photo walk through Jeppestown for a while because I think it’s one of the most interesting parts of town. The neighborhood is 120 years old (ancient by Joburg standards) and has lots of historic buildings, but in recent decades Jeppestown has suffered severe neglect and decay. Most of the people who live in Jeppestown today are surviving on very little, often living in abandoned or illegally occupied buildings.
A photo I took on Marshall Street in Jeppestown in 2012. This building is painted to look like a historic photograph shot on the same street in 1896. I had hoped to walk down this street on Saturday but the weather didn’t cooperate.
The urban decay in Jeppestown has made the area a popular painting spot for graffiti artists. Thanks in large part to the annual City of Gold Urban Art Festival, which has been concentrated in and around Jeppestown for the last two years, the graffiti murals in the area have grown progressively more spectacular.
I was also keen to schedule an Instameet at Bjala Square. Bjala is an innovative “social urban enterprize”, doing amazing community work in Jeppestown. And Bjala’s rooftop has one of the best views in town, even on a rainy day.
I had hoped to take a walk through the neighbourhood — meet a few locals and admire the old-school clothing shops and the street art. But we decided to skip that due to the unpredictable weather. Luckily I have a couple of Jeppestown shots from a scouting walk I took a few weeks earlier.
Anyway, back to Saturday’s meet. Since the rain stopped just as the Instameet was about to start, we decided to make a quick visit to the Jeppe Park Primary School on the bottom floor of Bjala Square, and then to head straight to the roof before the rain came back.
We spent the rest of the Instameet wandering around the roof, gazing at 360-degree views of the misty city and checking out the rooftop gardening program.
An experimental hydroponic garden, funded by Simanye Skyfarms, where vegetables are fertilized with goldfish poop and grow without soil. The garden is cared for by a great guy named Malibongwe, who I unfortunately forgot to photograph.
If you’re as enamoured with this view as I am, then you should know that the Bjala rooftop has recently been converted into an events venue called the Emkhathini. This is an epic location for a wedding — or any event, for that matter — and 30 percent of the venue’s earnings go to Bjala’s non-profit programs.
I’ve been having lukewarm feelings about Instagram lately. This iPhone app, which has brought me so much joy over the last four years, had been feeling more and more like business rather than fun. Posting photos had begun to seem like a chore. But this Instameet shifted my mindset a bit. A couple of dozen people showed up in Jeppestown amidst the worst weather conditions of the year, to take photos and hang out together and raise awareness about a good cause. I met new people, caught up with old friends, and had fun taking pictures, just like the good old days.
Instagrammer @faydza, aka Fahema, captures the disappearing city. Fahema and her entire family traveled all the way from Vereeniging for this Instameet, and brought a carload of donations for Jeppe Park Primary School. When I met Fahema on Saturday, I remembered that I had instagrammed her once before, in 2013 at a huge Instameet at FNB Stadium in Soweto.
I had fun. (Photo courtesy of @mikeinjozi)
Here’s to more fun Instameets, preferably in the sun.