The Louis Botha S-Bend: Walking Through Joburg’s History

by | Dec 19, 2019 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg | 14 comments

Along Louis Botha Avenue between Orange Grove and Yeoville there is a half-kilometer stretch of road previously known as “the death bend”.

Louis Botha is one of Joburg’s main thoroughfares between north and south, connecting Alexandra Township and the city’s northeastern suburbs to downtown Joburg. The road is notoriously ruled by speeding minibus taxis. This particular stretch is a relatively steep downhill from south to north and has a few dangerous curves.

The Louis Botha corridor is in the middle of a major redevelopment. The death bend was recently straightened out somewhat, and there is now a wide pedestrian sidewalk and a very high wall along the northwestern side the road.

A few months ago, that wall was covered with a huge, vibrant graffiti mural illustrating the history of the Louis Botha corridor (previously the Old Pretoria Road). The graffiti project is called the S-bend mural and it’s the largest mural in Joburg, covering 3,000 square meters.

The Louis Botha S-bend, previously known as the death bend.
The S-bend, previously known as the death bend.

The S-bend mural — “S-bend” is meant to be less negative than “death bend”, while still warning drivers of potential danger — was commissioned by the City of Johannesburg Department of Transport, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), and a JDA-supported art campaign #ArtMyJozi. Artists who participated in the project include Zesta, Page33, Mein163, Anser91, Ekse, Dreadr, Mars, Jestr, Plank, Vivian Kohler, Sandile Radebe, and Maja Maljevic. (You can find most of these artists on Instagram.)

There was a lot of local community input into the subject matter of the mural, which begins with the history of Louis Botha as a 19th-century Ndebele trade route and continues to the present day.

Walking the Louis Botha S-bend

Last Monday, a public holiday in South Africa, my friend Fiver and I parked on a side street off Louis Botha and walked the length of the S-bend mural. It was delightful. There’s so much to look at — the mural is like a mini art and history lesson. I also loved interacting with the pedestrians and cyclists passing by.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures.

The start of the S-bend mural
The start of the S-bend mural.
Taxi driving on Louis Botha past the S-bend mural
Colorful taxi, colorful mural.
Cyclist passing the S-bend mural
Modes of transport, including buses, cars, trains, trolleys, ox wagons, and bicycles, are a recurring theme on the mural.
Horse on S-bend mural
I love this.
Our Jozi Works piece in Louis Both S-Bend mural
This is my favorite panel. I love everything about it, especially the donkey cart.
Moses at S-bend mural
Moses, who we met walking along. His shirt matches the mural.
Doll House panel on Louis Botha S-bend
A panel depicting the Doll House, an iconic Louis Botha roadhouse that closed in 2017 after 80 years in business. Here’s a brilliant story about the Doll House, which still hasn’t been demolished more than two years after its closing.
S-bend portrayal of London Road
London Road is the main road through Alexandra township.
Guy on bench in S-bend mural
I didn’t get this guy’s name but he’s doing a great job modeling one of the several covered benches that JDA installed along the S-bend mural.
Fiver at S-bend mural
Fiver illustrates how you can lean against the benches in addition to sitting on them.
Heather on bench
I really like the benches. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)
Guys at S-bend mural
Two guys who asked to be photographed with the mural.

Thanks to Page33 for providing important information and background for this post.

If you’d like to walk the S-bend, I recommend parking on Young Avenue (a quiet residential street) near the corner of Acorn Lane, which intersects with Louis Botha in the middle of the mural. I also recommend going on a Sunday — or even better, a holiday — when traffic is light and it will be easier to cross from one side of Louis Botha to the other.


  1. Lesley

    I think it first got it’s name death bend in the1970s
    A truck lost control whilst coming down Louis botha, ploughing throith mang cars in front of it. The death toll was high.

    • 2summers

      That sounds horrific 🙁

    • Rene Elk

      Also in 1966, my husband Selwyn Elk, then a young school boy and 6 others going to soccer practice at Balfour Park, hitched a ride on the milk truck, which went out of control around the bend and all 7 of them were thrown off (one was Julie Kaplan who played for Highlands Park for years). Luckily no lives were lost but shortly afterwards it was called the death bend.

      • 2summers

        Oh wow, that’s a crazy story! I’m glad they all survived. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Catrina

    Love the idea, love the artwork and love the vibrant colours!
    I think my favourite part of the mural is the orange one showing the different modes of transport.
    What a difference it makes to a boring, grey wall!

    • 2summers

      I love that part too.

  3. AutumnAshbough

    Those benches are cool and functional. Want.

    • 2summers

      I love them too.

  4. Tricia

    I’ve driven past the mural many times, but I obviously need to walk long it, as I haven’t noticed much of it. I didn’t even see the benches. I love it, and thanks for this.

    • 2summers

      My pleasure! I think the benches were added just recently.

  5. eremophila

    Fabulous! And there’s nothing like walking, to truly see a place.

  6. e-biker

    I love the shopping trolley mural done by I think Drek is his name. His name is in the umbrella.

    • 2summers

      That’s also a great one


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