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Oriental Plaza Instameet infogram

News Flash: The First Oriental Plaza Instameet (With Prizes)

I first visited the Oriental Plaza six-and-a-half years ago, on 18 August 2010, 12 days after I moved to Johannesburg. I know this because I wrote a blog post about it the following day. The first photo I ever took at the Oriental Plaza, in August 2010. I’ve been to the Plaza at least 50 times since that first visit (read about other visits here and here and here), and the place still awes and delights me every time. It’s always at the top of my list of recommendations for things to do in Joburg. So imagine my joy when an opportunity arose to work with the Oriental Plaza on a social media campaign, encouraging people to come to the Plaza for an Instameet to kick off the Festive Season. (“Festive Season” is South African for “Holiday Season”.) I am so, so excited to host an Instameet at the Oriental Plaza. Our announcement for the upcoming Instameet — Instagram-speak for a gathering of photographers. As you can see, the Plaza is already decked out for Christmas. It’s a mall, technically, but the Plaza bears no resemblance to the bland, suburban megamalls that Johannesburg is famous for. First of all, the Plaza is in […]

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The Angel of the North sculpture outside Constitution Hill in Hillbrow

From Mansions to Muti Shops: Exploring Johannesburg’s Heritage

Last Saturday was Heritage Day, a South African public holiday celebrating the nation’s heritage. This holiday is interesting because “heritage” can mean so many things. South Africa has 11 official languages and dozens of distinct cultural groups, each with its own heritage. There’s also historical heritage, architectural heritage, artistic heritage, archeological heritage…Pretty much anything can be heritage. On top of that, South Africa’s big-brand advertising industry has rebranded Heritage Day as “Braai Day” (braai means barbecue in South African), in an effort to convince South Africans — as if they need convincing — to consume piles of meat and gallons of beer on this holiday. All this means that there are dozens of different Heritage Day activities to choose from in Joburg, especially when the day falls on a weekend. I was overwhelmed by all the options, but settled on a full weekend of historical tours with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. Holy Family College, opened as the Parktown Convent in 1905, where the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tours started and ended. How cool is that intricate latticework? The beautiful staircase inside Holy Family. Flo Bird, founder of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, in the chapel at Holy Family. This woman is a legend and so […]

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Cosmopolitan outside in 2014

Joburg’s Cosmopolitan Hotel: Then and Now

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, at the corner of Commissioner and Albrecht Streets, is one of Joburg’s most legendary buildings. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Cosmopolitan is big and Victorian, its columned, curly-cued cupola looming high above the street. The crumbling facade is strangely magical, like something from a Tim Burton film. The Cosmopolitan, once a prominent gentleman’s club, was in a state of disrepair for decades, its lower-level windows bricked up to prevent trespassing. (Read more about the Cosmopolitan’s history here.) But there have been rumblings of change for a few years, especially since the Maboneng Precinct started sprouting up around the Cosmopolitan. Now, the wait is over. The Cosmopolitan has been made over into a restaurant/retail/gallery space, and it’s officially open for business. I was lucky enough to take some photos inside the Cosmopolitan in May 2014, when a soon-to-be-stalled renovation had just begun and the place was a complete mess. I’ve been sitting on these photos for two years, waiting for the renovations to finish so I can show the before-and-after. While the renovations aren’t 100% finished yet, I can’t wait any longer. Outside the Cosmopolitan Hotel: 2014 and 2016 The front of the building looks more or less […]

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Victorian wedding dress at Lindfield House

Return to Lindfield, Joburg’s Quirkiest Historic House

I first visited Lindfield House in early 2011, a few months after I moved to Joburg. I blogged about it then, but after visiting for a second time two weeks ago I now realize that my original post was inadequate. I can’t say enough about how amazing this place is, and the Jozi blogosphere needs a reminder. Lindfield House, at 72 Richmond Avenue in Auckland Park. The house was built around 1910, when Auckland Park was still a distant suburb of Johannesburg. Lindfield House is part museum, part tea room, part events venue, part educational facility. It’s also a private home where a modern-day Victorian lady lives. Katharine Love — the sole owner, operator, curator, chef, housekeeper, and resident of Lindfield House. She conducts all of her tours in a Victorian housekeeper’s uniform.  A Tour of Lindfield House Every inch of every room in Lindfield House, from the drawing room to the kitchen to the bathroom to the pantry, is decorated to look like a late-19th-century/early-20th-century home in an English colony. The house is filled with thousands of antiques, collected over a lifetime. Katharine and her parents moved here when Katharine was a young girl, and she and her late mother have been collecting Victorian antiques […]

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Nizamiye Mosque minarets

Touring Joburg’s Mosques and Minarets

Joburg’s religious diversity is one of my favorite things about the city. There are so many beautiful churches and mosques and temples, representing every faith imaginable, and while I’m not a religious person I love visiting places of worship. (See the “God Project” series that I’m doing with Jozi Rediscovered. By the way, you can expect a new God Project post very soon.) So when I saw that the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was offering a “Mosques and Minarets” bus tour, visiting three mosques in different parts of town, I signed up. I usually avoid bus tours, but Joburg is vast and sometimes wheeled transport is necessary when visiting far-flung parts of town. As often happens on tours like this, I get distracted taking pictures and miss a lot of the interesting information imparted by the guides. Nonetheless, we had fantastic guides and one of them was the legendary Flo Bird, founder of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. Flo Bird (right) with Mohammed Docket, chairman of the Northcliff Jummah Musjid. I did manage to absorb a few details, which I’ll share along with many mosque photos. The Nizamiye Mosque We met the bus in Parktown (it was full — Joburg Heritage tours are very popular) and proceeded up the […]

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Makuleke community drama song

Pafuri: A Beautiful Place With an Ugly History, Turned Beautiful Again

Once upon a time, the Makuleke people lived on a triangle-shaped piece of land, bordered by two rivers, at the intersection of three countries. The land was beautiful and fertile, with a huge diversity of animals and the mightiest trees in the world. This triangle was called Pafuri. In 1969, at the height of South Africa’s apartheid, the Makuleke were “removed” from the Pafuri Triangle so the area could be incorporated into the Kruger National Park. Men with guns drove trucks into the Makuleke villages, rounded up the people, and drove them to a barren piece of land a couple of hours away. The people — mostly women, children, and elderly men, as the younger men were away working — were dumped and given tents to sleep in. The men with guns left, and the Makuleke had to start over. This is a grossly oversimplified description of what happened. I’m a blogger, not a historian. A typical scene in the Pafuri Triangle, on a bridge overlooking the Luvuvhu River. It probably looked much the same in 1969. A traditional home in the area where the Makuleke were forcibly removed, 90 minutes’ drive from the Pafuri Triangle. When democracy came to South Africa in the 1990s, […]

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Roving Bantu Kitchen Sifiso Ntuli

Roving Johannesburg With the Roving Bantu

A few months ago, I briefly referred to a place in Brixton called the Roving Bantu Kitchen. In December I wrote a short review of the Roving Bantu Kitchen for JHBLive, but I held off on writing about it on my own blog because I wanted to get to know it better first. But now the day has come. If you’re really interested in the Roving Bantu Kitchen though, please read the JHBLive review first because I won’t repeat all of it here. Sifiso Ntuli of the Roving Bantu Kitchen. The word “Bantu”, among other things, was the apartheid-era term for black Africans. The Roving Bantu Kitchen was founded a few months ago on a street corner in Brixton, by Sifiso Ntuli and his partner Ashley Heron. Joburg music fans might already know Sifiso and Ashley as the former owners of the House of Nsako, another legendary venue in Brixton that closed a few years ago. The Roving Bantu Kitchen The Roving Bantu Kitchen is a tiny, quirky restaurant/pub/community gathering place/concert space/events venue that, in my mind, epitomizes what Joburg is about. The Roving Bantu Kitchen. Inside the Roving Bantu Kitchen. Over the last few months I’ve been to the Roving Bantu for film documentaries and […]

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Modderfontein: A Very Old Place That Needs Protection

A few weeks after I moved to South Africa five years ago, I walked into an antique shop and fell into a conversation with the owner about interesting places to visit in Joburg. “You should really go to Modderfontein,” the guy said. “There’s an old dynamite factory there and loads of history.” He even offered to take me on a tour. I kept this in the back of my mind for years but never got around to Modderfontein, which means “muddy spring” in Afrikaans. It sounded far away — somewhere on the East Rand. A couple of other people recommended historic Modderfontein to me over the years. But it wasn’t until last week, when I went to Modderfontein investigating tourist attractions for another project, that I finally realized what I was missing. An old weather station building in Modderfontein. I’m not sure what year it was built but according to the Modderfontein Conservation Society it was was the first weather station in the Transvaal. I’m transfixed by the history of Modderfontein. It was founded in 1894 (eight years after Joburg) when ZAR President Paul Kruger decided the Republic needed a dynamite factory for the burgeoning mining industry. Kruger seconded a factory manager named Franz Hoenig from the Nobel company […]

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Snapshot from Ghana: Inside the Dungeons of Anomabo

There’s a lot I could say about my tour of Fort William, previously known as Anomabo Fort, on Ghana’s central coast. But this photo tells most the story. Tour guide Philip Atta-Yawson in a slave dungeon at Fort William. Philip is pointing to the hinge in the floor where people were chained.  During the 17th and 18th centuries, Fort William was a “slave castle” — a place where human beings were bought and sold before being dragged onto the beach and loaded into ships bound for America. The fort later became a prison and is now a museum. Philip Atta-Yawson is the tour guide at Fort William; he lives inside the fort. I found Philip to be just as fascinating as the fort itself, if not more so. I was impressed by his ability to explain the fort’s brutal history in very few words. Philip lets the dungeons speak for themselves. The inside of the fort is haunting. The view from the roof is literally a breath of fresh air. Anomabo village from the roof of Fort William. I didn’t visit Elmina Castle or Cape Coast Castle, the two larger and more well known slave castles in the area. After visiting to Fort William, my friend […]

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Gauteng Ambassadors Invade the Cradle of Humankind

Before I continue my series on Lesotho and the Eastern Free State, I need to tell you about a fun excursion to the Cradle of Humankind that I took last month as part of the Gauteng Tourism Ambassador program. I wrote a long post about the Cradle of Humankind — a world heritage site 45 minutes from downtown Joburg where some of the world’s oldest hominid fossils were discovered — a couple of years ago. If you want to learn all about the Cradle of Humankind and what to do there, read that post. If, on the other hand, you feel like looking at pictures of me and a bunch of other photographers running around the Cradle of Humankind acting silly, then this post is for you.

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Statue-Hunting in the Historic District

Everyone knows that Washington D.C. is a historic city. But unbeknownst to most of the world, D.C.’s history extends far beyond the monuments and museums around the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. Looking south down 16th Street from Columbia Heights, toward the White House (further away then it looks) and the Jefferson Memorial. Last Friday I went running through Meridian Hill Park — in Northwest D.C. between 15th, 16th, and Euclid Streets — and noticed how pretty it is. I decided to go back the next morning to take photos, and my friend Bob graciously agreed to accompany me (rising far earlier than his normal Saturday wake-up time) to provide some historic background on the park.

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Remembering Rivonia on Madiba’s Day

“…no one can blame brave just men for seeking justice by the use of violent methods; nor could they be blamed if they tried to create an organised force in order to ultimately establish peace and racial harmony.” –Chief Albert Luthuli, 12 June 1964 (printed on a placard at the Liliesleaf Visitors’ Centre) ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦ Last Thursday (11 July) was the 50th anniversary of the raid on Liliesleaf Farm, which eventually led to the historic Rivonia Trial. That would have been the perfect day for me to write a post about the amazing museum at Liliesleaf, which I’ve been meaning to do anyway. But I missed it. However, today (18 July) is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. Mandela (whose nickname is Madiba, for the non-South Africans among you) was the central figure in the Rivonia Trial, which led to Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment. So now I have a second chance to write a meaningful post on a meaningful day. I won’t miss it this time.

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