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. Dlala Nje has an apartment on the top floor of Ponte City. This is the view through the window of that apartment. Hillbrow has an incredible concentration of satellite dishes. Ponte 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. Sorry, one more. Fiver sketches inside the Ponte core. […]
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. Me 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 […]
On a tour with Dlala Nje last weekend, I visited some high-rise rooftops in Berea. Pigeons 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 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. 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. The Hillbrow Tower and a perfect pigeon in flight. 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 in all its glory, shot from Yeoville Ridge. 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 […]
Actually, “jumped around like a maniac” is a better description of what I did. But you know what I mean. 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.
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 his ring. I nearly cried when I saw this.
My recent tour of Ponte City, hosted by Mainstreetwalks and Dlala Nje, included a Saturday-afternoon stroll in Hillbrow. I go to Hillbrow at least a couple of times a week for boxing training but I don’t walk around the neighborhood with my camera very often, especially not on weekends when the streets are most busy. So I was excited for this opportunity. Art deco apartment block in Hillbrow.
Ponte City is a mythical place. Ponte City, the tallest residential building in Africa. Ponte City is the most visually striking structure in Johannesburg, and its history is as fascinating as its appearance. Ponte has 54 floors and hundreds of flats. A few decades ago it was a trendy middle-class apartment building. Later it became the city’s largest brothel and dope den, ruled by gangs, thugs, pimps, and dealers.
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)
When I moved to South Africa last year, I had a vague understanding of the role Nelson Mandela played in ending apartheid and reinventing this country. (Nelson Mandela is often referred to as Madiba, which is his clan name. It took me a while to figure out why people are always calling him that.) It also took a while for me to comprehend the magnitude of Madiba’s impact on the South African people, and on the consciousness and spirit of this country. I’ve been trying to think of a historical figure who has had a comparable impact in the United States. There isn’t one. Two years ago, when Madiba turned 91, his birthday was officially coined Mandela Day — a day to honor Nelson Mandela and perpetuate his legacy worldwide. Mandela Day is tomorrow, 18 July, but the country has been celebrating all weekend. Mandela Day is a big deal around here.