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Abby the Hillbrow Cat in Melville

A Hillbrow Cat Becomes a Melville Cat

Before reading on, I suggest reading Part 1 of Abby the Tiger’s story.

Humans call me Abby. But they used to call me Tiger.

Abby the Hillbrow Cat in MelvilleAbby, formerly Tiger, a well-traveled cat.

Some of you may remember me — I’ve told my story here before. I was born in Hillbrow and I used to live in a boxing gym there. Back then, when I was still a young cat, Heather (the human who owns this blog) asked me to write a guest post for her. She thought my life was very interesting, and I suppose she was right.

Tiger the cat and George at the Hillbrow Boxing Club
This is me, more than two years ago, when I was a young cat in Hillbrow. The man in the photo is George, my original human.

My story has become even more interesting since then. I recently bumped into Heather and she asked me to write an update. I will pick up where I left off.

Two years ago (that’s about 10 cat years ago), I was a happy cat in Hillbrow. I slept at the gym and roamed the streets, wherever and whenever I pleased. I was small and fast and vicious and I knew how to take care of myself. I was Tiger, the Queen of Hillbrow.

One day a new cat came to the gym — a young whipper-snapper named Nippy. Nippy was a tiny kitten when he arrived and I paid him little attention. But eventually he grew into an annoyance.

Nippy the Hillbrow kitten
Nippy, the young whipper-snapper. 

Nippy began to bother me, stealing my food and pawing me as I tried to sleep. The humans at the gym encouraged his dreadful behavior. It was all quite a nuisance.

I am solitary and prefer to interact with others on my own terms. And to be honest, I was insulted and hurt.

I began to spend less time at the gym, wandering the streets of Hillbrow and singing the sad song of my people.

My memory of this period is hazy. At some point I wandered far from the Hillbrow Boxing Club, then struggled to find my way back. I slept in an alleyway, which smelled strange but had many tasty rats. I drank water from a filthy puddle and slept on a bed of rags.

Days passed. I don’t know how many. Some humans grabbed me and scooped me into a box. I was scared and confused. There were other cats around me, also scared and crying. I can’t remember what happened next.

Soon I found myself far away, not in Hillbrow. It was a building with many levels and bright lights and big windows and many, many cats. I have never seen so many cats in one place. I wandered the building, hiding behind racks of clothing and boxes of books, but I was never alone.

The big building with so many cats was called Bounty Hunters, and it was in a place called Melville.

After a number of days I ventured out of the big building as I couldn’t bear being around so many other cats. None of them cared that I was the Queen of Hillbrow. I wandered across the street, to a place with many humans eating food at tables. A few of the humans gave me tasty morsels. I crept through a doorway, into a big room with more humans eating at tables. Lots of humans, but no cats. I breathed a sigh of relief.

No one seemed to mind my presence in this place filled with humans and tables and food. I returned to the cat-filled building that night, but came back to the human place the following day. The human place, I soon learned, was a restaurant called the Lucky Bean.

I became friends with Paul, a human who works at the Lucky Bean. I kept Paul company late at night, after the restaurant closed. I jumped from chair to chair and Paul played with me. Paul fed me and gave me a bed and a bowl of water.

Abby in the Lucky BeanThis is me in the Lucky Bean. Sorry, I know you can’t see me very well — I’ve become camera-shy in recent years. The human far in the background is Paul.

Paul called me Abby, as he didn’t know my name was Tiger. I don’t mind though. Abby is a nice name too. I now call myself Abby the Tiger.

I never returned to the cat-filled building.

Abby drinking waterDrinking water from my bowl at the Lucky Bean.

Abby the Tiger watching birds
This photo was taken by a human named Sally, who lives next door to the Lucky Bean. I like to watch Sally’s birds. If they ever leave that cage I will eat them.

One day, I walked inside the Lucky Bean for my evening meal. I heard a human voice at the back of the room. The voice sounded familiar.

“That cat looks just like a cat I knew in Hillbrow,” said the human. She was speaking to Paul.

Paul picked me up, and for one squirmy moment I was eye to eye with the familiar human. It was Heather, the owner of this blog. Although I first met Heather in Hillbrow, apparently she lives in Melville too. What a coincidence.

That is the end of my story, for now.

♦         ♦          ♦          ♦          ♦          ♦          ♦          ♦          ♦

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guest post from Abby the Tiger. Her story proves that humans know nothing of the mysterious lives of cats.

A few notes from Heather, the owner of this blog:

  • Like Abby the Tiger herself, I’m not sure how this little cat made her way from Hillbrow to Melville. The Hillbrow Boxing Club and the Lucky Bean are about seven kilometers (four-and-a-half miles) apart, but if you live in Joburg then you know the distance feels much greater than that, both literally and figuratively. I was shocked and overjoyed to discover Abby the Tiger alive and well, right under my nose. George was also thrilled to hear the news. Abby disappeared from the Hillbrow Boxing Club more than a year ago and we had all assumed her dead.
  • Bounty Hunters is a charity shop on 4th Avenue in Melville, around the corner from the Lucky Bean. Gail, the owner of Bounty Hunters, takes in stray cats from all over the city. (I suppose it’s not a total surprise that Abby the Tiger wound up there.) The doorway to the shop is perpetually overflowing with second-hand goods and cats.
  • The Lucky Bean is one of my favorite restaurants and a legendary fixture on Melville’s 7th Street. I had dinner there on my first night in Melville in August 2010. (Although I’ve mentioned the Lucky Bean many times in my blog over the years, I’ve never written a proper post about it. I should do that.) The fact that Abby the Tiger disappeared from one of my favorite Joburg places, and then resurfaced more than a year later in another, makes this story even more meaningful for me.
  • Nippy, the young whipper-snapper, is now a strapping (neutered and vaccinated) tomcat and the King of the Hillbrow Boxing Club.

Nippy the cat
Nippy relaxes in the basement of the Hillbrow Boxing Club.  

  • Although he’s not a part of this story, the Melville Cat is doing fine. He will write an update soon.

Melville Cat under my desk
Here he is right now, in his usual spot next to the space heater under my desk.

View of Joburg from the top of Ponte City

In Transit: Hillbrow Above and Below

I’m about to leave South Africa for a few weeks, which always makes me feel weird. I woke up in a strange, sad mood today, mourning everything about the state of the world. I recognize the feeling now — it’s pre-transit melancholy. (Although there really are a lot of crappy things happening in the world right now, too.)

This is going to be a momentous trip for a variety of reasons and I’ll be blogging about those reasons along the way. But before I go, I thought I’d throw out some momentous Jozi photos that I took earlier this month.

I tagged along with some friends on a tour of Hillbrow and Berea with Dlala Nje, an organization based in Ponte City. I’ve blogged about Hillbrow, Berea, and Ponte City on many occasions but these places never get old.

View of Joburg from the top of Ponte CityDlala Nje has an apartment on the top floor of Ponte City. This is the view through the window of that apartment.

Satellite dishes in HillbrowHillbrow has an incredible concentration of satellite dishes.

Ponte City core straight upPonte City (the tallest residential building in Africa) has a hollow core. Here’s the view from inside the core, one of the most spectacular sights in Joburg.

Ponte City core at an angleSorry, one more.

Fiver sketching in the Ponte City coreFiver sketches inside the Ponte core.

Hillbrow Gumtree Out on the streets, this is the Hillbrow version of Gumtree. People in Hillbrow and Berea use this wall to advertise apartments for rent, rooms for rent, even beds for rent. They often sit around the wall after they put up their signs, waiting for others to find their advertisements. It’s a great place to people-watch.

Kids walking home from school on Pretoria Street in HillbrowSchool’s out on Pretoria Street.

Shopping signSonnyboy’s Mini Market, the shop that sells everything from sardines to hubby bubbly.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for updates from the Western Hemisphere. And not to worry, the #Gauteng52 series will continue uninterrupted during my travels.

Guy in Hillbrow

10 Photos of “Our Hillbrow”

I train at the Hillbrow Boxing Club and I’ve been going there three mornings a week, every week, for the past five years.

I used to go to the gym with a bunch of friends, but for the last several months it’s been mostly just me. I drag myself out of bed at 6:00 a.m., plunge my tiny car into the riot of taxis on Claim Street, wind boxing wraps around my hands, and exhaust myself for an hour with my coaches, George and James.

This thrice-weekly ritual is an essential part of life for me. Boxing, and Hillbrow, have seeped into my veins.

Heather and George at Hillbrow Boxing ClubMe and George Khosi, founder of the Hillbrow Boxing Club. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

I spend more time alone in Hillbrow than I used to, driving and running up and down the parking lot of the boxing club. I see more and I think more.

In a city full of complicated, confounding, rapidly changing spaces, Hillbrow is the most complicated and confounding and rapidly changing of all. I’ve written about Hillbrow many times (here’s my first post from March 2011), but I struggle to fully explain what it is, or what it feels like.

Hillbrow is different from the rest of Joburg — the people are different, the buildings are different, the weather is different. I often leave Melville in bright, warm sunshine, and arrive 15 minutes later to thick, chilly fog in Hillbrow. It’s weird.

But in another way Hillbrow is the real Joburg. When major historical shifts happen, Hillbrow is the first part of town to experience tumultuous change — where change manifests itself most acutely. Hillbrow is like a sensitive child with a weak immune system, catching all the bugs before the other children, experiencing high fevers and coughing fits. We hope she’ll survive, and grow up stronger for all her suffering. But maybe she won’t.

I used to romanticize Hillbrow. The crush of people and traffic, the piles of trash, the air of danger — it seemed so fascinating and cool. Sometimes it still does. But I think I’m more realistic now. Hillbrow is a special place. It’s always been a cultural nerve center, a part of the city where people go to party and challenge the establishment. But Hillbrow is also a place of suffering. There’s acute poverty, addiction, and violence. There are huge, dying buildings, rotting from the inside out as people try to live in them.

Hillbrow is a hard place, like the city that surrounds it. Hillbrow is hard to know.

I could have saved myself a lot of time and made this a five-word post: Hillbrow is hard to know.

10 Pictures of Hillbrow

Anyway, the real reason for this post is a set of photos I took last month during a walk in Hillbrow. I took the pictures while exploring Nugget Street with George and Marie-Lais, for Marie-Lais’ “Other Side of the City” column in The Citizen newspaper.

Here are my ten favorites.

Kids running up Nugget Hill in HillbrowA kid runs up Nugget Hill, a legendary Hillbrow hill. The mosaic in the background is by prominent Jozi artist Andrew Lindsay.

Nugget Hill from aboveNugget Hill from the top. The city has recently given this section of Nugget Street a face-lift, redoing all the pavement and sidewalks and installing stairs and a wide walkway near the bottom. The pedestrian bridge over the street is closed — I’m not sure why. Hopefully that will change soon.

Welcome to Our HillbrowGeorge, Hillbrow’s proudest ambassador, stands on a set of steps decorated with the poem “Welcome to Our Hillbrow” by Phaswane Mpe. The poem’s words wind their way to the top of the steps.

HauntingHaunting, indeed.

Building in HillbrowA child plays in front of a Hillbrow high-rise, laced with satellite TV cables, as a city employee sweeps the street.
 Guy in HillbrowThis guy demanded that I “shoot him”. I can see why, as he is exceptionally photogenic.

Pulpit of Christ the King Cathedral in HillbrowCathedral of Christ the King, at the bottom of Nugget Hill, has to be one of the most beautiful churches in South Africa. It’s perfectly maintained and always open to the public. 

Cathedral of Christ the KingAnother shot inside Cathedral of Christ the King.

Cathedral of Christ the King stained glassAnd another.

Skipping rope in the Hillbrow Boxing Club
Back at the Hillbrow Boxing Club, where we started our walk, a teenage boy skips rope.

That’s my take on Our Hillbrow.

If you’d like to explore Hillbrow but aren’t sure how to go about it on your own (most people aren’t), I recommend taking a tour with Dlala Nje.

Walking on the Roof of Johannesburg

On a tour with Dlala Nje last weekend, I visited some high-rise rooftops in Berea.

Pigeons and Ponte CityPigeons enjoy a view of Ponte City from the roof of the Metropolitan building in Berea.

I’ve written about Jozi’s rooftops before (read here and here and here). And here’s the thing about these rooftops: They’re the greatest places in town to enjoy the city, and yet a huge proportion of the city’s population never visits them. Because the best rooftops tend to be in the parts of town where people are scared to go to.

Berea is one of those parts of town. It’s adjacent to Hillbrow, and most Joburgers consider Hillbrow a no-go zone. Fortunately tour companies like Dlala Nje and JoburgPlaces and Past Experiences are helping to change things, encouraging people to come into town on tours like this one.

I, for one, jumped onto this tour as soon as I saw the listing. I can never have enough Jozi rooftopping in my life.

The tour concept was simple. We met at Dlala Nje’s headquarters in Ponte City, walked through Berea to the first building, walked some more to the second building, then went back to Ponte for the best Jozi skyline view in town.

Before the tour started, my friend Fiver and I made a quick visit to Ponte’s core.

Inside the core of Ponte CityI never get tired of this shot.

Once the whole group was gathered, we headed out of Ponte and up a steep hill to the Metropolitan.

I can’t remember how many floors the Metropolitan is, but I think it’s about 20. The building seems to be fully occupied and very well-run.

On the roof of Berea's Metropolitan BuildingThe Hillbrow/Berea area is where all the hip young Joburg professionals lived in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It’s the only part of town where you have dozens of high-rise residential buildings packed in closely together. The huge cylinder in the background is the Hillbrow Tower.

View from the Metropolitan BuildingPonte dominates the skyline. The tall, bluish building on the right is the Tygerberg, where we went next.

We spent 30 minutes or so on top of the Metropolitan, then squeezed into the elevators to get down and walked several blocks to the Tygerberg.

Housing advertisements in BereaSpotted on the way to the Tygerberg: Hillbrow/Berea’s version of Gumtree.

The Tygerberg — which used to be one of the hottest residential addresses in Joburg — is bigger, more crowded, and more chaotic than the Metropolitan. It took us about 20 minutes of waiting in line to finally get on the elevator to the 23rd floor.

Fiver takes photos from the stairwell of the Tygerberg Building.Fiver looks out at the inner city from the 23rd-floor stairwell at the Tygerberg.

When I got to the roof of the Tygerberg, the first thing I noticed was Ponte.

View of Ponte from the TygerbergI hate the fact that I’m giving free advertising to Vodacom, but oh well.

The second thing I noticed was the fantastic school choir lined up with the skyline behind them, performing for our group.

The Barnato Park High School Choir performs on the roof of the Tygerberg.The Barnato Park High School Choir.

Barnato Park High School is in Berea; our Dlala Nje guide, Franck, attended the school himself and arranged for the choir to perform for us. (A portion of the proceeds from our tour were donated to the Barnato choir.) We listened to the choir sing while munching on roasted mielies (corn on the cob) and taking photos of the sunset.

Heather and Ponte from the roof of the TygerbergPonte and me. If you look very closely, you’ll see that I still have mielies in my teeth. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

A spectacular sunset from the roof of the Tygerberg.Jozi.

Fiver and I were the last people to leave the rooftop.

Heather photographs Hillbrow from the roof of the Tygerberg.Photo: Fiver Löcker

Fiver photographs Hillbrow from the roof of the Tygerberg.Fiver really didn’t want to go.

We made our way back to Ponte just after sunset. Although we didn’t go to Ponte’s actual rooftop (I hope to make it up there someday, though), we got the next best thing — a visit to one of Ponte’s rad penthouse apartments in the 51st floor.

Hillbrow at night from the top of Ponte CityAnd this, my friends, is the way to end a walking tour in Joburg. (I couldn’t decide which top-of-Ponte photo to post here. Check out a slightly different version on my Instagram account.)

This Dlala Nje tour was a “special edition”, meaning it was a once-off. They’ll be doing a different special edition tour every month from now on. (Check out Dlala Nje’s Facebook page for event updates.)

I’ll have more rooftop posts coming soon, I’m sure. I always do.

Morning Stroll Through Hillbrow and Yeoville

I took a quick photowalk through Hillbrow and Yeoville this morning with my friend Ruth and some guys from the Hillbrow Boxing Club, including my boxing coach George Khosi. I’m saving most of the photos I took for a project that I’ll be revealing soon. But I took a few special shots for this post.

Church in HBC

When Ruth and I arrived at the gym at 6:30 a.m., here’s what we found: Dozens of members of the African Baptist Apostolic Church, dancing and singing and stomping rhythmically on the floor. George occasionally lets out the gym to various congregations from this church; they arrive on Saturday evening and pray all night. (We arrived just before they finished.) What an amazing surprise — I find these services incredibly beautiful and I’m grateful to the congregation for allowing us to take photos.

Hillbrow Tower and bird

The Hillbrow Tower and a perfect pigeon in flight.

George Ponte1

We walked to Yeoville Ridge, one of my favorite spots in Joburg. Pictured here: Ponte City and George Khosi, two of this city’s great icons.

Hillbrow

Hillbrow in all its glory, shot from Yeoville Ridge.

 Magogo Minimarket

I’ve been driving past this shop, which is on Claim Street near the corner of Esselen Street in Hillbrow, for years. I have always wanted to photograph it. I think it must be the tiniest shop in Joburg — just large enough for a single person to stand in and crammed with stuff, mostly candy and toys from what I can see. The proprietress, whose name I never got but I’m guessing might be Magogo, agreed to be photographed but she didn’t seem totally happy with the situation.

Hillbrow cat

Back at the gym, Ruth and I paid a visit to the Happy Hillbrow Cat. She has become quite lazy in her adulthood, rarely leaving this cozy folded blanket next to George’s bed. Unlike Magogo, the Happy Hillbrow Cat seems to enjoy being photographed.

Thanks to George, Takalani, and Siya for a great morning. It’s been a while since I took a walk around this part of town and it felt like a breath of fresh air.

I Danced Like a Maniac in Hillbrow

Actually, “jumped around like a maniac” is a better description of what I did. But you know what I mean.

Jovi BCUC resized

This is Jovi, lead singer of a band from Soweto called BCUC. He made me jump around like a maniac.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the terrible taxi accident at the Hillbrow Boxing Club, and our plans to help Coach George Khosi fix his ring and make other repairs to the gym. I’m pleased to report that the fundraising efforts have been very productive. The ring has already been replaced and several other improvements are underway.

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Help Us Rebuild the Hillbrow Boxing Club

On Tuesday evening I received this text message from George Khosi, coach of the Hillbrow Boxing Club:

there is an accident at the gym the ring is damaged by a tax coach

It took me a while to figure out that “tax” meant “taxi”. When I arrived at the gym the next day, it all became clear.

george and ring1

George and his ring. I nearly cried when I saw this.

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Ponte.

At long last, I got into Ponte.

I’ll write a longer post about this epic visit, which happened courtesy of Mainstreetwalks, in the next few days. In the meantime, here are a few Instagrams.

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Viva, Ponte City. Viva.

Hillbrow Pride

George 6:06PM: Hi champ if can bring a camera we need to shoot ritas kit.

Me 6:07PM: Okay coach no problem.

 Rita Mrwebi and her coach, George Khosi, model their new “kit”. George has been training Rita since she was nine years old. She is now the South African women’s welterweight boxing champion.

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I Box, in Hillbrow

Part 2 in an occasional series about boxing. Read Part 1. Also, watch a short video about George’s gym.

When George Khosi was a kid, living on the streets of Hillbrow, he dreamed of being a boxing champion. He fought his way (literally) through the ranks, and was on his way toward becoming one.

That dream died 14 years ago, when George was brutally attacked, shot, and left for dead on a hillside overlooking Johannesburg.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I recently learned that the hill where George nearly lost his life is the same hill that I visited and blogged about two weeks ago.

George. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

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