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africa

Madiba statue at Long March to Freedom in Maropeng

Join the Long March to Freedom Art Walk

UPDATE: The Long March to Freedom Art Walk is fully booked. Hopefully we can organize another one soon. Last January I visited the Long March to Freedom National Heritage Monument in Fountains Valley, Pretoria. I was enchanted by this glorious phalanx of 100 bronze South African freedom fighters, all marching in the same direction. But the Long March to Freedom was hidden in Fountains Valley. No one would ever come upon it without actively looking. A year later, the monument has moved to a much better location at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind. Maropeng is one of Gauteng province’s top tourist attractions, and the Long March to Freedom is prominently placed right at the entrance. Now thousands of people will get to see the monument every month, which is exactly the attention it deserves. I took a trip out to Maropeng a couple of weeks ago. Not all the sculptures had been moved yet, but there were enough. The army of heroes marched across the open grassland, on this site where humankind was born, in their quest for freedom. The Long March to Freedom Art Walk Maropeng is about an hour north of central Joburg and I encourage everyone […]

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Cathedral of Christ the King

5 Beautiful, Secret Places in Downtown Joburg

I was on a walking tour today, talking to someone about Joburg. It suddenly occurred to me there are so many insanely beautiful places in downtown Joburg that Joburgers either: a) don’t know about because the places are really hidden; or b) are afraid to visit, or would never consider visiting because they think the place is too dangerous or too trashed or just not worth the trouble. I talk about some of these places until I’m blue in the face, but I still get the same responses: a) blank looks; or b) questions like, “But is it really safe to go there?” So I thought I’d write an article like this, with a really click-baity title, to get your attention. Here are my five favorite beautiful, secret places in downtown Joburg. If you like beautiful, secret things (and who doesn’t?) you should visit them all. 1) Cathedral of Christ the King Yes, it’s in Hillbrow and Hillbrow can be a little daunting. But the Cathedral of Christ the King has a parking lot with 24-hour security and it’s really not very hard to drive to. Inside, the cathedral is pristine and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful church […]

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Inside the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

Meditating at the Buddhist Centre in Fietas

I’ve been in the U.S. for the past three weeks dealing with very frustrating South African visa problems. I’ve been ridiculously stressed. Then yesterday, in the middle of my most recent meltdown, I remembered my recent visit to the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre and instantly felt calmer. The Lam Rim Buddhist Centre is in Fietas (also known as Vrededorp) — a historically non-white suburb in Joburg that experienced forced removals and virtual destruction during apartheid. The building used to be an Afrikaans Dutch Reformed church. It’s not a place where one would expect to find an octagonal-shaped shrine to Buddha painted in every color of the rainbow. But there it is. This is a rough neighborhood and the centre backs up to an informal settlement. But it’s so peaceful there, inside and out. The garden is simple but pretty and there’s a little koppie, or hill, behind the building where the residents of the centre go to have tea. Marie-Lais and I visited on a Thursday evening and met Shayna, who lives at the centre, and Neil, who leads meditation classes there each Thursday at 7:00 p.m. I mostly took photos but tried to meditate a little between shots. I’d like […]

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Fish from Kafe Noir

November Restaurant of the Month: Kafe Noir

In the very heart of downtown Joburg, on a block no one would expect, is a magical corner of African style. Papy Nakuw, acclaimed Congolose-South-African founder of Urban Zulu, has his fashion design business there, as well as a hip backpackers and a hair salon. But this post is about the culinary magic at the corner of Anderson and Van Brandis Streets. The culinary magic of Kafe Noir. Papy, the King of Cool, at Kafe Noir. Kafe Noir is the restaurant attached to Urban Backpackers. It’s been there for a couple of years but up until recently it was more of a small coffee shop; Papy recently expanded the space and it’s now a full-on restaurant. The entrance to Kafe Noir.  Cool people hanging out in Kafe Noir. The menu at Kafe Noir looks quite basic at first — black type on white laminated paper, mostly sandwiches and burgers with a few South African dishes mixed in. But look again. Find the listing for carapau, a grilled Portuguese mackerel, and order it. Don’t ask questions, just do it. Grilled carapau with chips (fries) and salad. This fish, prepared by South African chef Bokang Legele and costing only a few dollars, is […]

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Elevate rooftop bar

Elevate at the Reef Hotel: Joburg’s Secret Rooftop Bar

I have long bemoaned the fact that although Joburg has tons of downtown rooftops with incredible views of the city skyline, hardly any of them are open to the public. The rooftop at the Parktonian Hotel, for example, is open only to hotel guests, and Randlords is only open for events The Elevate Rooftop Venue, at the top of the 16-floor Reef Hotel, used to be the same — available only for guests of the hotel or for various events at varying times. Not anymore though: Anyone can visit the Elevate bar between 3:00 p.m. and midnight, seven days a week. The view is spectacular. Looking out over Anderson Street, Gandhi Square and beyond from the Elevate rooftop bar. The Reef Hotel on Anderson Street. This hotel is also a bit of a best kept secret — one of very few nice, affordable, full-service hotels in the CBD, on a safe, quiet street. Sundowners on the Elevate Rooftop Elevate’s decor is a bit night-clubby for my taste — all black marble and faux leather furniture — and sometimes the music is a little loud. (I know, I am making myself sound 1000 years old.) But none of this matters. There’s […]

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Transwerke building in Hillbrow

Transwerke: Artists Bring a Crumbling Building to Life

In Hillbrow, at the corner of Joubert and Sam Hancock Streets, is a striking Art Deco building with a strange, ominous-sounding name: Transwerke. Transwerke, and the many buildings like it in Joburg, are a perfect illustration of this city’s strange, fascinating, maddening contradictions. Outside the building appears dilapidated and forlorn. It smells like pee. But Transwerke is also majestic, unlike any building I’ve seen before. It has graceful, oval-shaped balconies jutting out in all directions. Google doesn’t seem to know what “Transwerke” means and no one in the building could tell me either. Do you know?  An interior courtyard. Behind the building. Transwerke was designed in 1939 by acclaimed architect Gordon Leith. Back then it was the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital — a place where women gave birth and also a residence for midwives. The hospital sits just below the Old Fort Prison, now Constitution Hill. Under apartheid, the midwives living at Transwerke were sent to deliver babies in the women’s prison. The building closed in 1983 and Transwerke sat vacant. In September 2017, Transwerke received a “black plaque” from the Gauteng Heritage Action Group. Black plaques are meant to shame heritage building owners into stopping rampant decay in buildings […]

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Wooden Newtown heads in downtown Joburg

The Newtown Heads Are Back in Action

As I float down a canal in the Netherlands, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Newtown heads. If you live in Joburg you know the heads I’m talking about — the hundreds of wooden sculptures lining Mary Fitzgerald Square and several streets in the downtown neighborhood of Newtown. Newtown heads in the center of Mary Fitzgerald Square. The heads, all 500-something of them, were originally erected in 2001. But over the years quite a few of them were stolen/vandalized/cracked or eroded due to weather. Joburg city enthusiasts mourned the heads’ demise. Here’s what all the heads looked like until recently. The head in the foreground is badly weathered and the head in the background is gone completely. The decoration on the concrete plinths is part of a separate project by artist Food Baby Soul.  In 2018, as part of the Newtown Now! festival in July, artist Americo Guambe — who spearheaded the creation of the original Newtown heads — received funding from the Joburg City government and the Johannesburg Development Agency to do a major head renovation. Nearly 100 of the heads have been replaced and/or refurbished, and they look positively glorious. The New Newtown Heads Feast your […]

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Pizza from Ben's Pizza in Marshalltown

August Restaurant of the Month: Ben’s Pizza in Marshalltown

There’s a brick oven pizza restaurant in downtown Joburg and it’s open on Saturdays. It’s called Ben’s Pizza and it’s delicious. Ben’s Pizza. Really, this is all you need to know. It’s not easy to find decent restaurants in the Joburg CBD. And Ben’s is more than a decent restaurant. It feels almost exactly like a New York City pizzeria, right down to the red-and-white checked tablecloths. The sign off to the side reads: “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy pizza and that’s kind of the same thing.” Although it’s not visible in the photo, Ben’s has a brick pizza oven behind the counter. I went to Ben’s on a Saturday evening with my friend Koketso. We split the Brigadier pizza, which has bacon, spicy chicken, and salami, and paired it with bottles of a Belgian cherry beer called Liefman’s. It was perfect. (Ben’s also serves pasta, burgers, calzones, and some other dishes. But I can’t imagine going there and not having pizza.) While we were eating, Ben himself walked in wearing an Old Navy t-shirt with an American flag on it. There couldn’t be a more quintessential New York pizzeria owner. Don’t ask me why I didn’t take his […]

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Somerset House, Fox Street entrance

JoburgPlaces and the Restoration of Somerset House

About three years ago, I was roaming around downtown Joburg on a drizzly Sunday afternoon with some photographer friends. As we walked along Fox Street near the corner of Rissik Street, just behind Gandhi Square, we noticed an open doorway and walked inside. I didn’t know it then but this doorway led to Somerset House. I had no idea what I was looking at but I could tell this building was special. My eyes went immediately to the dazzling black-and-white checkered floor and the bright green tiles along the walls. I looked up; the building was three stories tall and the two stories above were painted in various shades of red and blue, with ornate wood and iron railings lining the balconies overlooking the atrium. I now know the vaulted ceiling is made of glass, but the ceiling was covered in metal sheeting back then so I couldn’t see it. One end of the building was closed off so I didn’t know Somerset House was actually an arcade, with one side opening onto Fox Street and the other onto historic Gandhi Square. We didn’t stay in the building for long. We weren’t really supposed to be there, and my friends […]

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Mom on road trip in South Africa -- Route 62

The Ultimate Mother-Daughter South African Road Trip

As you may already know, my mother and I took an epic road trip from Cape Town to Joburg. I called it the #2SummersSARoadTrip. Our road trip route (roughly) between Cape Town and Joburg. I’d been wanting to do this for years: Take a full week to drive at a leisurely pace between South Africa’s two largest cities. (In case you’re curious, it takes about 15 hours to do this drive straight through.) There are many different routes to take but we chose a simple one, heading east from Cape Town through the Langeberg and Swartberg Mountains, northeast through the Karoo desert, then straight north through the grassy Free State back to Joburg. We spent two nights in the Robertson Wine Valley (one in McGregor and one in Ashton), one night in Oudtshoorn, two nights in Mountain Zebra National Park (outside Cradock), and drove the rest of the way home from there. As I mentioned previously, I hired a car for this trip through Around About Cars. Mom and our cute little white car, on Route 62 between Montagu and Barrydale. I can summarize this entire post in just seven words: South Africa is a fu*%ing beautiful country. The Naudesberg […]

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blowtorched cocktail at Mooteebar in Melville

Avant-garde Cocktails at Melville’s Mooteebar

My mom came to South Africa and we spent two weeks traveling around the country doing fabulous things and it was amazing and I didn’t blog the whole time she was here. I think this is the first time in eight years that I’ve gone two weeks without posting, and now I have a huge backlog and I feel totally overwhelmed and I’m finding it hard to start. So before I dive into all the mother-daughter activities here is a quick post about Mooteebar. Outside Mooteebar on a very cold evening in Melville. You might recognize the building as the former home of Café Mexicho, Melville’s now-defunct mediocre Mexican dive.  Mooteebar needs a place in this blog because: a) It’s in Melville; and b) It’s the most unique and innovative bar in Johannesburg. If you are remotely interested cocktails, no matter where you live in this city, you need to give Mooteebar a try. You will either love it or you will hate it — there are few in-betweens when it comes to opinions on this place. But Mooteebar is worth a trip either way. Cocktails at Mooteebar Inside Mooteebar. The bar also has a lovely outdoor courtyard and roof deck, but […]

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Jackal in Dinokeng

A Quick Visit to the Dinokeng Game Reserve

I recently went to the Dinokeng Game Reserve for a quick, one-night media visit. Dinokeng opened officially in 2011 — pieced together from a bunch of private farms — and is the only free-roaming Big 5 game reserve in Gauteng province. (The Big 5 are lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino.) Sunset in Dinokeng Game Reserve. The most remarkable thing about Dinokeng — which means “place of rivers” in Tswana — is how close it is to Gauteng’s main city centers. It’s less than 90 minutes from central Joburg and less than 30 minutes (even as few as 15-20) from Pretoria. People are always asking me to suggest quick weekend getaways from Joburg; Dinokeng is one. One Night in Dinokeng Chris Pieterse, our guide for the Dinokeng media visit, owns the Chameleon Bush Lodge. My colleague Marie-Lais and I loved our night at the Chameleon and found ourselves wishing we could stay longer. Fun branding for the Chameleon Bush Lodge. Marie-Lais’ room — each has a different color scheme, mimicking the changing colors of a chameleon. Dinokeng is still new and doesn’t yet have the established feel of a park like the Kruger or even the Pilanesberg. While we had quite […]

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