Swazi Werner with his books at the Zebra Inn

Remembering Swazi Werner of the Zebra Inn

I just published a blog post and I don’t normally do multiple posts in a day. But I just heard the news about Swazi Werner, owner of the Zebra Inn, who died last night.

Swazi Werner with his books at the Zebra InnSwazi in his basement library in 2014.

My hard-drinking days are long gone and I generally hate going to bars. But the Zebra Inn, which you can read about in this article I wrote for Sawubona a couple of years ago, is an exception to that rule. The Zebra Inn is the most iconic bar in Joburg and I’ve always loved going there. Swazi was Joburg’s most iconic bar owner.

Last night there was an armed robbery at the Zebra Inn. I know very few details. But Swazi and his friend Johann Botha, a prominent journalist and television presenter, were shot and killed.

There are a few short articles floating around about the murders, but the ones I’ve seen so far have only made a fleeting mention of “the owner” of the bar without identifying Swazi.

Perhaps this is because Swazi wasn’t his real name. Swazi once explained to me that his first name is Werner (he was originally from Austria), but he used to live in Swaziland and eventually took on the name “Swazi Werner” to differentiate himself from all the other Werners around. He never mentioned what his last name was.

Inside the Zebra InnInside the Zebra Inn. That’s Swazi sitting at the table on the right.

The Zebra Inn, to me, is the epitome of Johannesburg: a seedy bar, opened in a run-down section of Johannesburg, which was eventually engulfed by the trendy Maboneng Precinct and adapted to its new surroundings. The Zebra Inn maintained its original shebeen-like character and cheap beer, while also becoming a tourist destination where hipsters hang out and have ironic dance parties. I’ve attended a few of those parties myself and they were all great.

The Zebra Inn at nightThe Zebra Inn at night.

The Zebra Inn is not for everyone. Some might find it distasteful. There have been persistent rumors over the years that the Zebra Inn is a brothel, although I’ve never seen any proof. And then there’s the taxidermy — hundreds of stuffed wild animals covering the walls, which Swazi, a renowned big game hunter, reportedly shot all himself. I’m not a fan of prostitution or big game hunting but I still love the Zebra Inn. Because…Joburg.

I’ve always preferred going to the Zebra Inn during the day. It’s usually pretty empty, and it was the best time to play the juke box and chat with Swazi and his partner Lucille.

Heather and Ray at the Zebra Inn
Instax photos of Ray and me at the Zebra Inn in 2014, shot by our friend Tim Van Rooyen.

It was during one of those mid-day visits that Swazi took me downstairs to see his book and record collection. Swazi had thousands of books and records, gathered over decades of travel around Africa, as well as an impressive collection of traditional art and other memorabilia. I was blown away by this secret little museum.

Swazi Werner with his traditional art collectionSwazi shows me his art collection.

I didn’t know Swazi well, but I’m glad I knew him. I’m devastated he’s gone. I can’t imagine the Zebra Inn without him but I’m hoping it continues somehow.

The Zebra Inn

My heart goes out to Lucille and the rest of Swazi’s friends and family, as well as to the friends and family of Johann Botha.

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35 Comments

  • Reply Colsie June 8, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    This is very sad. Thanks for sharing your history.

    • Reply Manfred June 21, 2017 at 10:33 am

      I have known Swazi sins 1965 when he was a 24 year old diesel-mechanic in Swaziland. I lived in Swaziland. for ten years and became a close friend of Werner. I was the one who supported him when he was deported from Swaziland. I could tel the true and not so true stories about him but let him rest in peace

      • Reply 2summers June 21, 2017 at 10:36 am

        Hi Manfred, wow, I would love to hear all of your stories — true, not-so-true, and everything in between. Thank you so much for the comment.

  • Reply GoingSomewhereSlowly (@AnjeRautenbach) June 8, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    🙁

    • Reply manfred June 21, 2017 at 10:56 am

      To hear my full story would take too long to write but it is an interesting story.

      • Reply 2summers June 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

        If you ever decide you’d like to tell it, you know where to find me here 🙂

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson June 8, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    Beautiful tribute Heather.

  • Reply violetonlineisonline June 8, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    I remember your first blog so clearly on the Zebra Inn, you inspired me to go there. (of course I didn’t)
    Oddly, I drove past it yesterday and thought ‘oh, must go.’
    And then today i heard the news.
    I am so sorry.

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Oh dear. That makes me sad.

  • Reply Justin June 8, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    This is terrible news. So sad to know… Another day of bloodshed in SA that has claimed a hero.

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

      Yes, very very sad.

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme June 8, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Wow, I had no idea, how horrible. So senseless.

    • Reply 2summers June 8, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      I know 🙁

  • Reply UnderAnAfricanSun June 9, 2017 at 6:58 am

    A beautiful tribute and such a senseless death. We drove by there a few weeks ago and I was telling the Frenchie about it and that we needed to visit sometime. I would have loved to meet Swazi, I bet he had some great stories. Condolences and peace to his family and friends.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      Oh, I’m so sorry you missed him. He was indeed one of a kind.

  • Reply daleymurray June 9, 2017 at 8:04 am

    So sad!

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:07 pm

      I know….

  • Reply Jenine June 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Beautiful tribute and enlightening read to me ….and many others, I am sure.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Mr Bunny Chow June 9, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    no like

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      Nope.

  • Reply AnaMarie van Schalkwyk June 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    My heart is saddened by the passing of my dad Werner. He will always be remembered.

    • Reply 2summers June 11, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Oh AnaMarie, I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. Thank you for the comment and my condolences to you and your family.

  • Reply Antonette du Toit June 11, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Heartbreaking news Senseless killing of two great men. Just so so sad. Thank you for your article.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:05 pm

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for the comment.

  • Reply Dick June 11, 2017 at 9:04 pm

    Great fighter in the CONGO with MIKE HOARE . Brilliant marathon athlete . And best of all …..my friend

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you for the comment 🙂

  • Reply Prospero June 12, 2017 at 6:50 am

    RIP Swazi.

    • Reply 2summers June 13, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Agreed. RIP.

  • Reply Henry June 15, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Let death be no proud… another fallen Heros of nature… May your souls RIP

  • Reply ERIC MILNER June 15, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    The loss of our dear friend Verna has left us devastated.
    Our deepest sympathy to Cathy and the boys.

    Eric, Shirley, Craig and Greg Milner, from Israel

  • Reply Troy Murray June 28, 2017 at 11:34 am

    So disappointing to learn of this tragic news. He was a friend of my dad’s and a proper legend. My wife even went to the original Zebra Bar in End Street (nice one dad) and it was she who rediscovered the relocated bar through one of your earlier posts (thanks). When last we saw him he’d just survived a terrifying car accident; we thought he was invincible. Was so proud and always spoke so highly of his boys. He will be sorely missed but not easily forgotten.

    • Reply 2summers June 28, 2017 at 11:51 am

      Hi Troy, thanks so much for your comment. I had no idea the Zebra Inn started in another location! Swazi’s story gets more interesting all the time.

  • Reply Hans Maier June 29, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    I am Hans and probably one of very few alive who new Werner as good as I. We met on 11th April 1962 in Venice Italy, boarding MS EUROPA which we left 21 days later on 1st May in Durban. An overnight train took us to Johannesburg. Until October 62 we lived in Delmonico court in Wanderer street. From there we moved to Komati Powerstation, working for AEG. We shared a three bedroom house for the following 16 month. Later we both lived in SD, learned to fly light aircrafts, organised Manzini chess club and remained good friends till 1973 when I returned to Germany. The last time I met Werner was at zebra inn about 3 years ago.

    • Reply 2summers June 29, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Hi Hans, thank you so very much for your comment. It really means a lot to receive comments from people like you, who really knew this man who so many Joburgers consider to be a legend. I’m very sorry for your loss of a good friend.

      Your life in Africa sounds fascinating!

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