Diepsloot is one of those places, like a lot of other Joburg places, where people are afraid to go.
Diepsloot, which means “deep ditch” in Afrikaans, is a huge informal settlement in the far northern outskirts of Joburg; in fact, it is so far north that it’s just as close to Pretoria as it is to Joburg. It emerged from nothing on an abandoned farm in the 1990s, as migrants poured into Joburg from rural South Africa and the rest of Africa and had nowhere else to go.
Hundreds of corrugated iron shacks sprouted up, then thousands. There were no public services, no police stations or hospitals or shopping centers. Diepsloot was a wild, post-apartheid frontier — one of those places that can only exist in South Africa.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people live in Diepsloot and the number continues to grow. The area has more infrastructure than it did a couple of decades ago, but it still has an anything-goes kind of feeling about it.
Diepsloot has kota stands, open sewers, vibrant community centers, secret gardens, fashion designers, herds of goats, Rastafarian hair-braiding shops, colorfully painted general dealers, and salons with eye-catching names. Diepsloot is a good place to ride a bicycle.
Cycling in Diepsloot
Lucky Nkali has lived in Diepsloot all his life. I met him there several years ago during a photography project with the Joburg Photowalkers, and seven years later Lucky is still working to promote culture and tourism in Diepsloot.
Lucky has started a cycling tour business and will be conducting a tour during the upcoming Jozi Walks weekend. In advance of the Jozi Walks event, which happens on May 19th and 20th, Marie-Lais and I decided to give Lucky’s tour a test ride.
I’ve written about bike rides and tours all over Joburg — Soweto, Alexandra, the Joburg CBD. The Diepsloot tour is much like all of these; just a fun, different way to see an interesting part of town that I might not otherwise go to. Lucky was a great host, leading us on our rickety bicycles through Diepsloot’s various extensions.
Some of Diepsloot’s extensions, which are numbered according to the order in which they were built, have wide, paved streets with bus shelters and bike lanes. Others are densely packed with shacks, on streets so narrow we had to walk our bikes through.
I saw many cool things on this tour, but it’s really difficult to ride a bike (especially a rickety one) and take photos simultaneously. I did manage a few shots, but generally I just had to stop being a photographer for most of the morning and take in the scenery with my actual eyes.
How to Prepare for a Diepsloot Cycling Tour
Wear closed shoes, lots of sunscreen, a hat, and pants/shorts that you don’t like very much because they might get splattered with mud/sewage. Bring some spending money and a backpack because Lucky makes shopping stops along the way. Be prepared to ride a rickety bike — the bikes Lucky uses are refurbished by local mechanics in Diepsloot.
Do not worry about safety. You are perfectly safe in Lucky’s hands.
The Diepsloot tour during the Jozi Walks weekend is already fully booked. But follow Blackbite Productions on Facebook for updates on future bike tours and other events.