A Visit to Hillbrow (Lockdown Day 99)

by | Jul 3, 2020 | Boxing, COVID-19, Hillbrow/Yeoville, Johannesburg | 19 comments

I’ve been working out with George Khosi at the Hillbrow Boxing Club for many years. Up until the lockdown started I’d been going to Hillbrow about three times a week, every week, since 2012.

George Khosi of the Hillbrow Boxing Club
George Khosi, coach of the Hillbrow Boxing Club. I shot this photo in January but it feels like decades ago — throwback to a time when it was summer, we could still exercise in gyms, and no one wore a facemask.

George is not just a coach. He’s like an uncle to me. And although we’ve been checking in via text every week or two, I hadn’t seen him in person since March and that was starting to feel really weird. Also the gym — which is on the site of an abandoned petrol station — has been undergoing a major renovation since February. I was eager to see how things were going.

Obviously I still can’t exercise at the gym, but I figured I could go for a masked, socially distanced visit. Yet I felt apprehensive, like the coronavirus somehow makes Hillbrow more dangerous than it was before. It’s weird how the pandemic makes me afraid of things I wasn’t previously afraid of.

I promised George I would visit this week. Today was the last day of the week. So I finally went and I’m so glad I did.

Visting Hillbrow

Hillbrow, which has always had a serious problem with sanitation (in fact that’s a huge understatement), is as clean as I’ve ever seen it. The streets are practically sparkling. Sanitation workers are busy sweeping on every block. All the robots (traffic lights) are working.

I know this is hard to envision but Hillbrow is SPOTLESS. There’s hardly a single piece of rubbish to be found.

Traffic passing the Hillbrow Boxing Club
Claim Street, Hillbrow. The boxing club, freshly painted in its new red and gray color scheme, is across the road.

George greeted me with a mask and an elbow bump, like I’d never been away, and we inspected the renovations together. The floor in the outdoor section of the gym, which was previously sloped, is now flat and smooth. There seems to be so much more space than before. Workers were busy constructing a new boxing ring.

Welder at work.
George standing where his sign used to be
George standing where his sign used to be. Hopefully they’ll paint a new one once everything is finished. I’ll do a full before-and-after renovation post once it’s done.

George proudly showed me the new bathrooms inside — one for men and one for women, each with a shower. He also showed me the new gym cat, who doesn’t have a confirmed gender or name yet. S/he enjoyed being petted and photographed.

George always finds the prettiest cats.

I was sad to leave, but there’s only so much I can do at the Hillbrow Boxing Club other than box. I said goodbye to George, promising to come back for a full photoshoot once the ring is finished.

Taking my usual shortcut on the way out, I passed a corner where there had always been a massive pile of garbage. Every now and again the pile would be cleared, only to return in full force a day or two later. Now there is a big dumpster standing where the pile used to be — presumably the rubbish is inside the dumpster. I wish I’d stopped to take a photo.

Today, on Day 99 of lockdown, I’m grateful for one thing to feel optimistic about. I probably won’t go back to Hillbrow for a while; the pandemic is becoming an acute crisis and I know I need to stay home as much as humanly possible. But today, this visit was everything.

George in gym
George Khosi at the Hillbrow Boxing Club
Another throwback to simpler times.

See you tomorrow on Day 100.


  1. Nancy McDaniel

    Good for George. And Hillbrow and you for going back to visit. I hope he can open up again soon(ish)

  2. dizzylexa

    If there is one positive thing the pandemic has done is clean up some places, Pretoria central is also looking a lot cleaner than the last time I was there. The gym is looking great, love the colour scheme.

    • 2summers

      Yeah, I really hope everyone can keep this up after the crisis is over.

  3. Catrina

    Wow, what a difference! A good idea to take a photo of George standing at the exact same spot where the sign used to be.

    There is something strangely optimistic and comforting about construction sites in a lockdown.
    I remember running past a restaurant in April that was being renovated. The construction guys were working as if the lockdown didn’t exist.

    Now the restaurant is open and welcoming guests on its spacious terrace outdoors. Running past there feels like it used to be. I would have never thought that possible.

    • 2summers

      You’re totally right! I hadn’t made that connection but construction is indeed optimistic.

  4. AutumnAshbough

    That’s a lovely and optimistic post.

    And it has a cat. 🙂

    • 2summers

      I know 🙂 🙂 This is also where Trixie came from.

  5. Rosemary

    Uplifting! Great colour scheme for the gym. Good to read/ hear the word robot again! Only a South African such as yourself would understand….

    • 2summers

      That word really confused me in the early days!

  6. violetonlineisonline

    Love your pics.
    I drove to the edge of Hillbrow today, to the police station and was SHOCKED at the rubbish. Beyond SHOCKED.
    I think we have so many Johannesburgs…

    • 2summers

      You mean there was a lot o rubbish there?

        • 2summers

          Wow. Like on the street where the station is? I was so close to that.

          • violetonlineisonline

            Ja. That was where I arranged to pick up my cleaner. I don’t go into Hillbrow often but SORRY to say, I was horrified.

          • 2summers

            I feel like I might have to go back and look. I can’t understand why the street where the police station is would be so bad when the rest of the neighborhood looks so good!

          • violetonlineisonline

            but it doesn’t matter. your pics are fab and George and the boxing club look GREAT. Glad you got to visit.

  7. David Bristow

    The first “robots” had robotic arms, one for each colour (or color), hence the name which stuck only in sunny RSA (I believe the first here was in Kimberley).

    • 2summers

      Wow, I have ALWAYS wondered about this question. Thank you for answering it. I’d love to see one of those robots with robotic arms.


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