Almost ten years ago, I did an exhibition of photos I shot in Maboneng and Jeppestown, two adjacent neighborhoods in downtown Joburg. I had nearly forgotten about this exhibition (which you can read about here). But then a week ago I received an Instagram message from Abdullah Dajee, owner of a men’s clothing and shoe shop in Jeppestown called City Hall (which is also known as City Outfitters or City Hall Outfitters).
Abdullah and his family own several shops and buildings in Jeppestown, including a block-long trading strip on Marshall Street called the Jozi Mall. Abdullah remembered I had photographed the Jozi Mall for my exhibition in 2012, and wanted me to see the upgrades he’s been making to the building this year.
I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t been to Jeppestown for years. The area has been neglected by the city over the past decade, and was hit especially hard by the violent unrest that broke out in South Africa last July. But as soon as I saw Abdullah’s new photo of the Jozi Mall, I knew I had to go back for a visit. Also Thorsten wanted to check out the shoe selection at City Hall. So last Saturday the two of us braved an early autumn cold snap and headed across the city to Jeppestown.
Jeppestown’s City Hall
The Jeppestown block where City Hall is, on MacIntyre Street, looked exactly the same as it did ten years ago. Abdullah was still behind the counter and the shop was full of customers, including one man trying on a sport coat who saw me taking photos and proudly announced: “My grandfather used to shop here!”
Although I met Abdullah several times in 2012 and took lots of pictures of his buildings and shops, I realize now I didn’t learn enough about the history of City Hall back then. I was too busy trying to document the entire neighborhood for the exhibition. I’m really glad I finally went back (a decade late) to learn more about this special Joburg landmark.
We had a lovely chat with Abdullah. He showed us a big scrapbook about the history of his family and business and told us about his grandfather, Ismail, who traveled alone from India to Africa (first to Mozambique and then to South Africa) as an orphaned teenager in 1915. Ismail began his retail career as a street peddler. City Hall/City Outfitters opened in 1931 and flourished under the management of Abdullah’s father, Mohammed, who was tragically killed in 2009. Abdullah, who originally trained as an optometrist and ran his own optometry shop across the street from City Hall, took over the clothing business after his father died.
The Re-imagined Jozi Mall
Abdullah also walked us around the corner to the Jozi Mall, which he recently opened up in the front to allow for street-side traders. (The indoor “mall” concept was no longer working, he told us.) Abdullah had to remove parts of the historic street-front mural as a result. But he is also painting the beautiful Victorian gables along Marshall Street in bright, primary colors (with a touch of florescence), which gives that entire block a huge punch of cheeriness.
This visit to Jeppestown raised my spirits and made me feel hopeful about Joburg’s future. I’ll definitely go back soon to document the Jozi Mall once the paint job is complete (and maybe to buy some Doc Martens from City Hall).
City Hall is at 45 MacIntyre Street, Jeppestown. Call 063-499-6782.