Mini Ponte: My New Favorite Joburg Building

Earlier today I found myself standing on Houghton Drive beneath a cylindrical apartment building in Berea, on the outskirts of the Joburg CBD.

Below the Imbali building in BereaThe Imbali Building, also known as “Mini Ponte” or “Little Ponte”. I took this photo from the side of Houghton Drive, just below Louis Botha Drive, where Mini Ponte is located at the corner of Tudhope Avenue.

I’d driven past this building dozens of times, and I knew it was nicknamed “Mini Ponte” for its resemblance to the much larger Ponte City apartment building just to the south. But this was the first time I’d looked at Mini Ponte up close.

“I’ve always wondered what that building is like on the inside,” I said to my friend Tecla, who was next to me.

“Maybe we should try to get in,” Tecla suggested.

“Sure,” I said, although inside, I wasn’t. Mini Ponte is in an edgy part of Johannesburg, just on the border of Hillbrow and Yeoville, and residential buildings in this area can be unpredictable in terms of how they’re managed and who lives there.

But…We were literally across the street. It seemed silly not to try.

We climbed the pedestrian stairway between Houghton Drive and Louis Botha, crossed the street, and looked up at Mini Ponte. The building’s real name, it turns out, is Imbali. (A friend just told me that Imbali means “flower” in Zulu.) We took one look at the entrance and knew that this building is safe.

Inside Mini Ponte

We opened the door and the security guard looked up from his desk. The lobby has one of those locked revolving doors — which only one person can awkwardly squeeze through at a time — with a computerized fingerprint recognition system. We called through the bars, explaining that we live in the area and have always wanted to see the inside of the building.

The guard looked at us dubiously but finally acquiesced. “I’ll take you to the first floor to look, but then you must leave,” he said.

We followed the guard up one flight of stairs and walked out of the stairwell. We saw this:

Looking up from inside the fourth floor of the Imbali building in Berea, Joburg.Looking up from the first floor of Mini Ponte. 

My jaw dropped. The inside of Mini Ponte looks just like the inside of Ponte City, except Mini Ponte is much cleaner and 100 times prettier.

Inside Mini PonteAnother look.

The cement floor at the center of Mini Ponte is neatly painted and spotlessly clean. It felt cool, and a few drops of water pattered down — probably from someone watering the plants above. There are so many beautiful plants.

Unlike in Ponte City, the interior hallways in Mini Ponte are open, bordered by railings rather than walls. The railings on every floor are lined with lush, green plants, making the core feel like a tropical jungle.

I wish I’d had time to take more pictures, to convey more of an impression of what it really looks and feels like in there. Above all, I wish we’d been able to see inside one of the apartments. But I think my big camera made the security guard nervous. Before I knew it, he was hurrying us out.

Imbali outsideBack outside Mini Ponte.

Tecla and I were both enchanted by Mini Ponte and I’m dying to know more. The more I think about it, the more I feel like the building must have some affiliation to Ponte City — the similarities are too striking to be a coincidence. But so far my google searches have yielded very little. I’m guessing the building hasn’t always been called Imbali but I can’t find any previous names. I’ve also found very few rental or sales listings for the building’s apartments, and no photos of the interior.

Does anyone know anything?

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  • Reply violetonlineisonline June 3, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    the excellent thing about your blog is that I never have to leave my home again to discover Joburg. thanks!

  • Reply hilaryjgreen June 3, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Everytime I go past mini Ponte I think of a smart and beautiful, girl that I sort of knew from work lived there. One night she went to a friend and neighbour in the building and asked if she could sleep over for the night. The next morning her friend found her dead from an OD. Such a tragic end to a beautiful woman. I found out that I was pregnant on the day of funeral.

    • Reply 2summers June 3, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Wow, that’s an amazing and very sad story. Did you ever visit her in the building?

    • Reply Seliya July 5, 2016 at 9:29 am

      believe it or not,i just moved into imbali building and i kept seeing the face of this lil girl and dreamt about the same lil girl until i decided to do a research on this building, i guess its the same girl i have been seeing….

      • Reply 2summers July 5, 2016 at 9:50 am

        Hi Seliya, that’s amazing! How are you enjoying the building?

  • Reply Debra Stewart June 5, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Imbali was built in 1968 and sold as refurbished sectional title units in 1989, when I purchased a 1.5 bedroom unit for the princely sum of R70 000. It has been home to many Joburg celebrities and artists, including singing legend Brenda Fassie, painter Nina Romm and author Colin Burke, to name a few. Each apartment is shaped like a large wedge of pie with the point bitten off … offering splendid views of the northern suburbs, Sandton, and on a clear day you can see the Magaliesberg… a source of inspiration for some 🙂 Although I now live in the countryside, I still own and use it as my sophisticated city retreat when in Johannesburg.

    • Reply 2summers June 5, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      Debra! Thanks so much for your comment — I’ve been dying to hear from someone who lived (lives) at Imbali. Would you mind if I emailed you about it?

    • Reply 2summers June 5, 2016 at 4:04 pm

      PS: You don’t have to share your email publicly – I already have it 🙂

  • Reply autumnashbough June 5, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    I love the plants on the interior balconies, but mainly I just love the unique view. Incredible.

    • Reply 2summers June 6, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      I agree. Coolest building ever!

  • Reply Jeanette June 7, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Oh wow, that is so much prettier than the bigger one.

    • Reply 2summers June 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      I know, right?!

  • Reply Yash July 14, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Awesome article. Any tips on parking, getting in, safety?

    • Reply 2summers July 15, 2016 at 6:15 am

      It’s pretty safe and there’s plenty of street parking, but the building is private. We begged our way in but the guard only let us stay for 5 minutes.

  • Reply Rudi Kramp December 17, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I went in there once, to bring someone a small TV set I was selling. That was to replace it with another small TV that was multi-system, to watch videos from the USA.

    • Reply Rudi Kramp December 17, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      The inside is also hollow, and looked very nice, like a garden.

      • Reply 2summers December 18, 2016 at 3:28 pm

        Yes, it’s so beautiful!

  • Reply Jasmin January 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I recently bought in imbali,as I young girl I stayed up tudhpo and I loved the building,the fact that the had white well maintained curtain made me think that it must be an old age home. I’ve been trying to get info/history on the building as am about to redesign my apartment and have its history and pics. You welcome to visit me. You should see the views it’s really breath taking.

    • Reply 2summers January 7, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Oh wow, thanks so much Jasmin. That would be amazing. I’ll email you.

  • Reply Expatorama February 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Aha! So pleased to know more about this. It’s like a secret urban garden in the core, much nicer than the Ponte one.

    • Reply 2summers February 20, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Yeah it really is. I kinda want to live there.

      • Reply Expatorama February 20, 2017 at 5:39 pm

        Look forward to the update when you eventually either gatecrash (ahem, I mean visit) or buy one of the apartments.

        • Reply 2summers February 20, 2017 at 5:51 pm


      • Reply Rossi March 8, 2018 at 1:34 pm

        The is one available from the 1 of April

  • Reply Carol February 22, 2017 at 7:26 am

    I rented there MANY years ago when I moved to JHB from Durban. Must have been about 1979. There were many young people living there. The penthouse was occupied by the Shamoons- Iranian owners of Shamoon carpets as well as a connection with a modelling agency. Didn’t ever go to the penthouse as they owned one of the old houses on Houghton Ridge & every weekend there were lunches with lots of pretty girls & even prettier cars. For me this was just about the most exciting time of my life! By the time I moved – maybe 2 years later – one could hear the odd gunshot in Berea at night, so the downgrade of the area started gradually a long time ago. We used to shop at the grocer & pharmacy in Tudhope Rd & on Saturdays wandered around Hillbrow – vynil LP records, fashion magazines, milkshakes & toasted sarmies! Didn’t go to Hillbrow at night as we were more entranced with Raffles & the newly emerging gay & multiracial night clubs in other areas. Went to the Goblet in Hillbrow a few times but only with my brother as protection . I was more into glamour than bikers! Those were the days!

    • Reply 2summers February 22, 2017 at 9:41 am

      Wow, that does sound exciting! Thanks for the trip down your memory lane.

  • Reply simplytyblog March 23, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Hi i’m a resident at Imbali for more than 10 years. It is the safest and cleanest building and views at night from my balcony to die for. Yeah the hooting from the taxi’s can put you in a tizz especially at 5am but this is Johannesburg and you just grow to ignore it. Please send me your email address and i will put you in touch with the Head Caretaker.

  • Reply richl March 8, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Heather, for no discernible reason I’ve arrived at this article which I missed before.
    It’s a charming building by the looks of it.
    In the 60’s we drove, a few times to Lorenco Marques and stayed in an hotel called the Girassol (sunflower I think), it’s a smaller version of this building.
    I wanted to post a photo but don’t think I can, never mind, its easily viewable on line.
    Thanks as always

    • Reply 2summers March 8, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      Oh cool, thanks Richard! I’ll check it out.

  • Reply Rossi March 8, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    Hi I have been running the building for 25 years you want to come and see ask security for Rossi

    • Reply 2summers March 8, 2018 at 2:54 pm

      Oh, thank you!

  • Reply Stewart March 26, 2019 at 7:39 am

    I lived on 6th floor in mid 70s. It was always called Imbali – Zulu for Round One. Cool place and easy access to city and Hillbrow. South African buildings of this era were solidly built

    • Reply 2summers March 26, 2019 at 7:47 am

      Such a beautiful building!

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