Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre

Not Cycling Through Alexandra Township

I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township.

It was a hard job riding around Alex in a comfortable car, photographing the cyclists as they toiled in the hot sun. But someone had to do it.

I was supposed to cycle, but there weren’t enough bikes and it was blazing hot and when someone suggested I ride in the Jeep that was escorting the riders and take photos through the open top, I gladly accepted.

The bike ride was hosted by Art Affair, a tiny art gallery and studio in Alex’s East Bank that also serves as an events venue/community gathering place. Artist and cycling enthusiast Mxolisi Mbonjwa owns the gallery and organized the ride together with Bicycle Stokvel.

Inside the Art Affair gallery.
A cyclist named Frank inside Art Affair. Mxolisi, I’m sorry I never took a photo of you for some reason.

I’ve visited and blogged about Alex many times. (You can browse all of my Alex posts here.) I don’t want to belabor this point. But if you live in Joburg and have never been to Alex, please go.

Alex is a five-minute drive from Sandton but many Joburgers are afraid to even drive past it due to Alex’s reputation for poverty and crime.

In fact, Alex is quite easy and safe to visit as long as you go with someone who knows their way around. And it’s one of the most important parts of Joburg historically, being the first township in Joburg and the first place Nelson Mandela lived when he moved to the city in 1941.

My friend Asanda, a tour guide in Alex, outside Art Affair. Asanda is born and raised in Alex and knows everything about this place. You can book a tour with her through Tour 2.0.

Also, Alex is fun. With the exception of me and my friends Crystal and Dom, who are new to Joburg and were visiting Alex for the first time, and a group of hard-core cyclists from the East Rand, I think the majority of the people on this bike ride were from Alex. They were super nice and welcoming and just plain fun to hang out with. We all had a great time being tourists in our own city together.

End of lecture. Here are some photos from the ride.

Following the Cyclists Through Alex

Our Jeep brought up the rear of the cycle ride so I have lots of photos of people’s, er…bums. But I like the pictures anyway.

Cycling through Alex
And they’re off.
Winners never quit!
Cyclists riding up a hill in Alexandra Township.
Yoh, I was happy not to be peddling up this hill.
Kids watching the cycle ride in Alex
These kids were chanting “Num-Ber-One! Num-Ber-One!” as the cyclists rode past.
Narrow street in Alexandra Township
Getting photographed while I photograph.
Classic sign-painting on a shop wall in Alexandra Township
Quick drive-by photo of some classic African sign-painting.
Riding through Alexandra's East Bank.
Riding through the East Bank, the newest section of Alexandra Township, at the end of the ride.
Cyclist in front of a funeral home in Alexandra Township
Just a photo I like.

Sight-seeing in Alexandra Township

This ride was mostly cycling for cycling’s sake. But we did make a couple of stops at interesting sites along the way.

Kings Cinema

Kings Cinema is the oldest movie theatre in Alex and a notable community gathering place — it was bombed by apartheid forces in 1984. I visited Kings Cinema once before a few years ago and was happy to see it’s had a new paint job since then.

Kings Cinema in Alexandra Township
Kings Cinema.

Alexandra Heritage Centre

This was the most exciting discovery of the ride. The Alexandra Heritage Centre, which was built about a decade ago but remained closed for many years due to various political/logistical/financial difficulties, is finally open and it is spectacular.

Outside the Alexandra Heritage Centre
Outside the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
Stained glass windows inside the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
Beautiful stained glass windows inside the centre.
Music section in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
This section of the museum is all about the history of music in Alex. These guys are recording the music on their phones.

We only had about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through the centre, but from what I saw the exhibits are fantastic. It’s my kind of museum — great design, great light, and engaging, interactive displays without too much heavy text to read. I will be back.

Wall of heroes in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
A family poses in front of a wall of heroes in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
View from a balcony in the Alexandra Heritage Centre
View from one of many beautifully designed balconies in the centre.

There is almost no information online about the Alexandra Heritage Centre but it’s at 4694 Hofmeyr Street, on what is called “Heritage Corner”. The centre is one street over from the historic Mandela house at 46 7th Avenue.

At the end of the ride there was a party set up in the yard surrounding Art Affair, with DJs and good food and beer. Crystal and Dom and I left after an hour or two but I suspect the party ran well into the night. It was a great way to spend a Saturday.

Follow Art Affair on Facebook for announcements about future events. Or contact one of these companies — all locally run — to book a tour in Alex.

Tour 2.0
The Hub Presents
Buvhi Tours (Alexandra Bicycle Tours)

Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre
The cycling group in front of the centre.
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12 Comments

  • Reply eremophila March 19, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Yep, that funeral shot is great!😁

    • Reply 2summers March 19, 2019 at 11:47 am

      Haha I’m glad you agree.

  • Reply dizzylexa March 19, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    I’ve been wanting to go to the Heritage Centre for awhile now, maybe we can make a plan and go sometime.

    • Reply 2summers March 19, 2019 at 1:02 pm

      Yes, let’s!

  • Reply Peter March 19, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    I love your bravery. The last time I was in Alex, I found myself on the wrong side of a 9mm in London road.

    • Reply 2summers March 19, 2019 at 6:41 pm

      Oh no, that’s terrible. When was it?

  • Reply Peter March 20, 2019 at 7:36 am

    Admittedly it was all the way back in 1998, but still clearly etched in my mind …

    • Reply 2summers March 20, 2019 at 7:38 am

      I’m sure. I know traumas like that often never totally go away. I’m so sorry it happened to you!

  • Reply Kal March 21, 2019 at 7:52 am

    I love heritage centers! I think we should have more of it around the world. Thanks for sharing Alexandra’s. I hope this inspires more people to visit 😊

    • Reply 2summers March 21, 2019 at 8:01 am

      I really hope so too 🙂

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme March 28, 2019 at 7:24 am

    Aww I love Alexandra! And it has come a long way even from when I used to drive through there. I don’t think I ever so any bike riders there in those days. Also, I love how you weaseled out of the actual bike riding:)

    • Reply 2summers March 28, 2019 at 7:47 am

      Hahaha. I’m not normally one to weasel out of this kind of thing but it was REALLY hot.

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