I recently visited “Little Addis”, the Ethiopian neighborhood in downtown Joburg. Little Addis is a block of old office buildings on Rahima Moosa Street (formerly Jeppe Street) between Troye and Delvers Streets, where there are a ton of Ethiopian shops and restaurants.
I hadn’t been to Little Addis for a while (read about my trips there in 2013 and 2011). During this visit I was reminded of: a) how fascinating the neighborhood is; and b) how daunting it can be to get there. It’s chaotic and confusing and a little scary, especially because I went with one other woman and not with a big group, like before.
But it’s totally worth the trouble, especially if you like Ethiopian food and a bit of adventure. So I thought I’d compile some tips.
Looking down on Rahima Moosa Street (many people still call it Jeppe Street) in Little Addis. Note the sign on the left for “GetaMadiba Trading Centre”. Madiba was Nelson Mandela’s nickname and is also a slang term for the South African 100-rand note.
How to Visit Little Addis
If you’re nervous about venturing into the Joburg CBD on your own, or if you want some extra context about the area, I highly recommend an organized tour. JoburgPlaces does regular tours to Little Addis and the nearby Fashion District every Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The JoburgPlaces tour is great.
But if you’re more of a do-it-yourself kind of person, here are my tips for visiting Little Addis solo.
1) Take the Rea Vaya bus.
Driving on Jeppe Street in the CBD is intimidating. Traffic is insane and parking is scarce so I recommend taking the Rea Vaya bus.
Here’s how Marie-Lais and I did it:
We drove to the parking lot at the Johannesburg City Library (entrance is on Albertina Sisulu Road near the corner of Simmonds Street) and told the parking attendant we were going to the library. He directed us to a visitor parking spot. (This was a weekday but on weekends the lot is empty and you can park anywhere.) We exited the parking lot onto Beyers Naude Square and walked across Albertina Sisulu to the Library Gardens Rea Vaya Station.
We bought tickets from the attendant — R20 each way — and asked her which bus to catch to Fashion Square.
From Library Gardens, Fashion Square station is two stops away on the T1 line.
There are obviously many other routes you can take to Fashion Square on the Rea Vaya — this one is just the easiest. The busses only run during the day. The maps are confusing but the ticket attendants and staff can always tell you which bus to take.
2) Walk to the Medical Arts/Majesty Building.
If you’ve come from Library Gardens, the Rea Vaya will drop you at the corner of Troye and Rahima Moosa (Jeppe) Streets. If you’ve come from the opposite direction, you’ll be two blocks away at Rahima Moosa and Mooi Streets. Exit the station and turn left onto Rahima Moosa. The building immediately to your left — 220 Rahima Moosa Street — is the Medical Arts/Majesty Building.
White people know this building as the Medical Arts building, because back in the day it was full of doctors offices. But today the Ethiopians in the neighborhood call it the Majesty Building. I don’t know why.
The biggest challenge is figuring out where to enter the building. The ground floor facade is lined with tiny shopfronts and there is no obvious main entrance. Marie-Lais and I wandered up and down the block a couple of times and eventually asked a shop-owner, who led us to a small doorway under a sign saying, “Majesty Wholesale Centre”.
I don’t have a photo of this — that street is too crazy for me to feel comfortable taking my camera out when I’m not with a group — but google 220 Rahima Moosa Street to see the building entrance in street view.
There are other buildings you can visit in Little Addis, but this one is the most popular and well known.
3) Go inside. Explore.
Once you’re inside the Majesty Building, you can feel comfortable getting your camera out and exploring. It’s very safe. Be sure to ask permission before taking photographs of people as not everyone is down with being photographed (although most people are).
The Majesty Building is about 15 floors tall but the shops and restaurants start to thin out after the third or fourth floor. The lifts don’t work.
There are several good Ethiopian restaurants in the Majesty Building. My favorite is the one on the first floor (second floor for the Americans among you) because it has an outdoor balcony with a great view of the street below. A platter of food for two costs R55, or about $3.85.
5) Have coffee.
Ethiopian coffee is very strong, very bitter, and drunk from tiny espresso cups with lots of sugar (no milk). The coffee is roasted fresh in small pans and brewed on the spot.
There are tons of little coffee corners all over the Majesty Building — in the hallways, at the back of shops, in the restaurants. You sit down on a small stool and drink the coffee while nibbling on hot, salted popcorn.
6) Go home (or check out the Fashion Kapitol).
Upon exiting the Majesty Building, turn right onto Rahima Moosa. If you’re returning to Library Gardens you’ll have to walk two blocks down to the Fashion Square westbound Rea Vaya station at Mooi Street.
If you have more time to kill, check out the Fashion Kapitol at 130 Pritchard Street. It’s also very close to the Rea Vaya station. Read about the Fashion Kapitol here.
7) Be safe but don’t freak out.
Little Addis is a frenetic part of Joburg and you should definitely be careful there. Be vigilant, make eye contact with passersby, make sure you know where you’re going, don’t walk on the street with your phone out, etc.
But also, don’t freak out. The area is very busy but otherwise it’s no more or less safe than any other part of Joburg.
Relax and have fun.