I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township. 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. 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 […]
If you browse through the food-related posts on this blog, you’ll notice that most of them are written about food from places other than South Africa: French, American, Mexican, Indian, German, Chinese. But what about South African food? Traditional South African food can be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Colonialism and apartheid are to blame for this. I think even most South Africans would struggle to describe South African food, just as I do when people ask me about it. My usual answer is, “…South Africans love meat.” (Cape Malay cuisine, mostly found in Cape Town, is an exception to this rule. Read about Cape Malay food here and here.) Anyway, my perceptions of South African food widened last Friday when I participated in the Alex Culinary Tour by Tour2.0. We ate our way through Alexandra Township, starting with the humblest street food and working our way up to serious fine dining. A takeaway shop in Alexandra Township, otherwise known as Alex. Our first stop was Mbopha’s Café, a takeaway joint on 3rd Avenue in Alex. Eating a Sly Vat-Vat “Sly” is a slang term for a slice of bread. “What-what”, or “vat-vat”, are filler words to replace something that is […]
A couple of weeks ago I took a walk through Alexandra Township, aka Alex, as part of an event sponsored by an Alex-based tourism company called The Hub Presents and a travel networking organization called Travel Massive. I’ve been to Alex many times but I never turn down an opportunity to go back, as I believe Alex deserves more love as a tourist destination. A child runs next to the bank of the Jukskei River, a trickling waterway that runs through Alex. I don’t want to say too much about this walk because I’m definitely going to do a full-length tour with the Hub Presents — it seems like such a cool company and I want to experience all of its offerings before doing a full review. But here are a few photos in the meantime. Kids playing in a new park built along the banks of the Jukskei. Interesting car wash sign. I chatted briefly to the owners but couldn’t get a clear answer on what the sign actually means. Our guide, Sifiso, explained that this sewage pipe used to be one of the only places where pedestrians could cross the Jukskei. Fortunately there is a new pedestrian bridge now. A child […]
I recently announced a storytelling project I’m working on called My Favorite Joburg People. I chose four people in Joburg, each of whom has an amazing story to tell, and interviewed them and shot their portraits. I’ll be presenting the stories and portraits at an event called Translating Joburg – Storytellers, and also publishing them on my blog. This is the third of the four stories. These stories are longer than my normal blog posts. Florence Ngobeni-Allen, May 2016. Florence Ngobeni-Allen I met Florence in August 2010, just a few weeks after I moved to Joburg, when I was hired to interview Florence and her family for an assignment with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Florence was a spokesperson for EGPAF, who I had worked for in Washington D.C. before my move to South Africa. So although we’d never met, I knew about Florence through stories I’d read. When I met Florence she was pregnant with her second son, Kulani, and I went to visit her after Kulani was born. My mother was visiting from America at the time and I have lovely pictures of Mom holding Kulani. The following year, when my boyfriend Jon’s alcoholism ramped up and I didn’t know how […]
On Sunday I helped organize an Instawalk through Alexandra Township, sponsored by the South African Cities Network and Mobile Media Mob. I’ve been to Alex many times and I’ve gone on Instawalks many times, but this was my first time going on an Instawalk in Alex. In fact I’m pretty sure this was the first organized Alex Instawalk, ever. About 20 or 25 people showed up for the walk. Despite being Joburg’s oldest township and one of the most historic parts of the city, the vast majority of Joburgers have never been to Alex, mainly due to fear. But I’ve always found Alex to be one of the most interesting neighborhoods in Joburg and one of the best places to take photos. I’m really happy that we had such a great turnout, especially because it was the first visit to Alex for most of the participants. The theoretical purpose of an Instawalk is to walk around an area, take photos with your phone, and then post them to Instagram. But I actually didn’t take many photos on this walk. First, I was semi-responsible for the group and it was challenging to keep track of everyone in the Alex traffic. Second, I haven’t been feeling […]
I recently found myself on a tour of Alexandra Township, or Alex, with an innovative new tourism company called Tour2.0. I like Tour2.0’s online description so much that I’m just going to quote it directly: Tour2.0 is a platform that takes you through a journey of discovery through authentic community tours and tour packages that are based on real African stories told by community members within the context of their community. I’ve spent lots of time exploring Alex and written about it in my blog (see posts here and here), in the soon-to-be-released SandtonPlaces book, and in an upcoming issue of the Johannesburg in Your Pocket Guide. But there is much more that I’ve yet to discover there. Alex, notwithstanding the fact that 95% of South Africans are afraid to set foot there, is one of Joburg’s most historic districts. I think it’s also one of the most interesting. On this recent tour I was introduced to a few places in Alex that I hadn’t been to before. Kings Cinema was the most spectacular. Kings Cinema: 48 2nd Avenue, Alexandra. Kings Cinema was built in the 1940s or 1950s (depending on who you ask). Other than natural ageing it’s hardly changed over the last 65 years. Kings Cinema is the oldest movie […]
I went to Alexandra Township to watch a rehearsal for a play. Five women participated in the rehearsal: four actresses and the writer/director. The rehearsal took place in a shop — selling soap, floor polish, and other household cleaners — that is about half the size of my kitchen. Four gorgeous women, practicing their art amidst bottles and buckets of soap and floor polish. They have to pause what they’re doing when customers come in to buy things.
Michelle and I arrived at the Marlboro Gautrain Station, on the edge of Alexandra Township, at 10:30 Sunday morning. Jeffrey, our guide, was waiting for us on the curb. “Who wants to get the taxi?” Jeffrey asked. I volunteered Michelle. Michelle stepped to the edge of the street and pointed downward, as Jeffrey demonstrated. Michelle hails a taxi.
I recently visited Alexandra Township for the first time since moving to Joburg, to attend a kids’ baseball tournament. At the end of my post about the tournament, I said I was looking forward to spending more time in Alex in the near future. Turns out my next visit was nearer than I thought — two days later I received an invitation to attend a tour of Alex, sponsored by Joburg Tourism and the Alex Tourism Route-Open Africa Cooperative (ATROAC). Alex needs more love. It’s just as interesting historically as Soweto, where 99% of tourists go when they want to visit a Joburg township. Alex has its own Gautrain station (Marlboro) and is across the road from Sandton, where most of Joburg’s visitors and business travelers stay. But Alex hasn’t been discovered by the big tour companies yet. Go now, before that changes. Alex in the foreground. Sandton in the background. [Joe deserves special credit for editing this photo. It didn’t look half this good when I shot it.] Our day in Alex began at the AlexSan Kapano Community Centre, recently renamed the Alexandra Resources Centre. We checked out the brightly colored library and business centre, then boarded a bus for a three-hour tour, led by […]