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tours

Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre

Not Cycling Through Alexandra Township

I recently found myself not cycling on a cycle ride through Alexandra Township.

It was a hard job riding around Alex in a comfortable car, photographing the cyclists as they toiled in the hot sun. But someone had to do it.

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.

Inside the Art Affair gallery.
A cyclist named Frank inside Art Affair. Mxolisi, I’m sorry I never took a photo of you for some reason.

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 first place Nelson Mandela lived when he moved to the city in 1941.

My friend Asanda, a tour guide in Alex, outside Art Affair. Asanda is born and raised in Alex and knows everything about this place. You can book a tour with her through Tour 2.0.

Also, Alex is fun. With the exception of me and my friends Crystal and Dom, who are new to Joburg and were visiting Alex for the first time, and a group of hard-core cyclists from the East Rand, I think the majority of the people on this bike ride were from Alex. They were super nice and welcoming and just plain fun to hang out with. We all had a great time being tourists in our own city together.

End of lecture. Here are some photos from the ride.

Following the Cyclists Through Alex

Our Jeep brought up the rear of the cycle ride so I have lots of photos of people’s, er…bums. But I like the pictures anyway.

Cycling through Alex
And they’re off.
Winners never quit!
Cyclists riding up a hill in Alexandra Township.
Yoh, I was happy not to be peddling up this hill.
Kids watching the cycle ride in Alex
These kids were chanting “Num-Ber-One! Num-Ber-One!” as the cyclists rode past.
Narrow street in Alexandra Township
Getting photographed while I photograph.
Classic sign-painting on a shop wall in Alexandra Township
Quick drive-by photo of some classic African sign-painting.
Riding through Alexandra's East Bank.
Riding through the East Bank, the newest section of Alexandra Township, at the end of the ride.
Cyclist in front of a funeral home in Alexandra Township
Just a photo I like.

Sight-seeing in Alexandra Township

This ride was mostly cycling for cycling’s sake. But we did make a couple of stops at interesting sites along the way.

Kings Cinema

Kings Cinema is the oldest movie theatre in Alex and a notable community gathering place — it was bombed by apartheid forces in 1984. I visited Kings Cinema once before a few years ago and was happy to see it’s had a new paint job since then.

Kings Cinema in Alexandra Township
Kings Cinema.

Alexandra Heritage Centre

This was the most exciting discovery of the ride. The Alexandra Heritage Centre, which was built about a decade ago but remained closed for many years due to various political/logistical/financial difficulties, is finally open and it is spectacular.

Outside the Alexandra Heritage Centre
Outside the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
Stained glass windows inside the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
Beautiful stained glass windows inside the centre.
Music section in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
This section of the museum is all about the history of music in Alex. These guys are recording the music on their phones.

We only had about 10 or 15 minutes to walk through the centre, but from what I saw the exhibits are fantastic. It’s my kind of museum — great design, great light, and engaging, interactive displays without too much heavy text to read. I will be back.

Wall of heroes in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
A family poses in front of a wall of heroes in the Alexandra Heritage Centre.
View from a balcony in the Alexandra Heritage Centre
View from one of many beautifully designed balconies in the centre.

There is almost no information online about the Alexandra Heritage Centre but it’s at 4694 Hofmeyr Street, on what is called “Heritage Corner”. The centre is one street over from the historic Mandela house at 46 7th Avenue.

At the end of the ride there was a party set up in the yard surrounding Art Affair, with DJs and good food and beer. Crystal and Dom and I left after an hour or two but I suspect the party ran well into the night. It was a great way to spend a Saturday.

Follow Art Affair on Facebook for announcements about future events. Or contact one of these companies — all locally run — to book a tour in Alex.

Tour 2.0
The Hub Presents
Buvhi Tours (Alexandra Bicycle Tours)

Alexandra Township cycling group in front of the Alexandra Heritage Centre
The cycling group in front of the centre.
Loretta Chamberlain, owner of Yukon House in Bezuidenhout Valley

Afternoon Tea in Bezuidenhout Valley

Bezuidenhout Valley, aka Bez Valley, feels like a forgotten suburb. Once home to wealthy Johannesburg socialites, the area has declined in recent decades. Many of Bez Valley’s stately old houses have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair.

Looking out over Bezuidenhout Valley
Looking out over Bezuidenhout Valley.

But Bez Valley maintains its sense of history. You can feel it while driving or walking its tree-shaded streets. Johannesburg’s oldest house is here and a few other historical landmarks remain. Yukon House is one of them.

Looking up at Yukon House in Bezuidenhout Valley.
Looking up at Yukon House, made partially of stone from the rocky hillside it’s built on.

Yukon House was built between 1906 and 1911 and was home to two Johannesburg mayors in the early 20th century. The house suffered periods of neglect as it changed ownership over the years (read this article about the theft of its priceless stained glass windows) but its current owners, Loretta and Henry Chamberlain, have lovingly restored the mansion back to its original glory.

Loretta Chamberlain, owner of Yukon House in Bezuidenhout Valley
Loretta standing in Yukon House’s dramatic entrance hall.

I’ve been meaning to visit Yukon House forever but it’s not open to the public all the time. So when I heard Kennedy of Micro-adventure Tours was hosting a historical tour there — including afternoon tea, my favorite meal — I jumped right on board.

Tour and Tea at Yukon House

This isn’t your average historical house tour. Loretta and Henry live at Yukon House so it doesn’t feel like a museum. This house is truly loved while also maintaining a very authentic, Victorian feel. Each room has some spectacular feature that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.

The drawing room.
Fireplace in the drawing room at Yukon House.
One of two spectacular fireplaces.
Fireplace in the dining room at Yukon House
This green-tiled fireplace in the dining room took my breath away. I struggled to get a photograph that conveys how beautiful and unique it is.
Art Deco lamp in Yukon House
Art Deco lamp at the base of the staircase.
Staircase in Yukon House
Stained glass windows and an interesting religious frieze in the stairwell.
Yukon House chapel
The Yukon House chapel, which can be booked for weddings.
Cherub above a doorway in Yukon House
Cherubs above every door.
Front garden at Yukon House
Looking down on the manicured front garden.

Tea was served on the cool stone patio adjoining the drawing room. It didn’t disappoint. The food was great and I really enjoyed getting to know the other tour participants who were sitting around me.

Afternoon tea at Yukon house
It looks like someone snatched a few of the cucumber sandwiches before I had the chance to photograph them. Not pictured: Mouth-watering mini sausage rolls.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than a fun, informative Jozi tour with great food. This was a perfect Saturday afternoon.

And I have good news: Kennedy is organizing another Yukon House tour just two weeks from now on 23 March 2019. Sign up by visiting his website: microadventuretours.co.za. You can also book your own event at Yukon House by visiting yukonhouse.co.za.

Mirror in Yukon House
Yukon House quirky mirror selfie.

Yukon House is at 33 North Avenue, Bezuidenhout Valley. My tour was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.

Joburg cycling tour with Kennedy

Cycle Joburg With Kennedy

Over the past couple of months I’ve participated in two Joburg tours with Kennedy Tembo of Micro-adventure Tours. Kennedy offers all kinds of innovative, outdoorsy tours in Joburg and surrounding areas — from Gauteng all the way to the Drakensberg. I am so excited to try them all.

I was planning to write about both the tours I’ve done with Kennedy in this post, but actually there is too much to say so I’m taking them one at a time. First up: Kennedy’s coffee and cycling tour through downtown Joburg.

Kennedy with his bike in front of a public art piece by R1 on Fox Street.

I’ve explored downtown Joburg countless times by car, on foot, on a bus, and even on a skateboard. I’ve done cycling tours in Soweto, Alexandra, and Diepsloot. But I’d never done a cycling tour though the middle of the city before, much less a cycling tour focused on coffee.

Cycling Downtown Joburg

I know what you might be thinking: Riding a bicycle through the frenetic Joburg central business district (what locals call the CBD) is only for cyclists with a death wish. Trust me though — it works.

Kennedy and Marie-Lais in front of the Standard Bank Building on Commissioner Street.

First of all, Kennedy is a great cycling guide. He is calm (in fact he has nerves of steel), navigates the streets with ease, and makes sure each intersection is clear before his cyclists ride through.

Second, traffic tends to move quite slowly downtown and Joburg’s infamous taxi drivers are surprisingly accommodating to cyclists. Also the CBD is mercifully flat.

Third, the city looks totally different from a bicycle than it does on foot or from a vehicle. I recommend every Joburg enthusiast give it a try, even if you’re a little scared. (You do have to be comfortable riding a bicycle.)

Joburg cycling tour with Kennedy
Kennedy and Marie-Lais cycle through Gandhi Square.

Our tour started and ended in Maboneng in front of Uncle Merv’s coffee shop. We cycled straight through the heart of the city, from east to west and back again, stopping at four coffee shops in the western/central CBD and Newtown.

Goat Coffee on Simmonds Street, near the Standard Bank building on the west side of the CBD. It was my first time visiting this fun coffee shop.
Ornate Coffee, formerly Capital Cafe, in Corner House on Commissioner Street. This is one of my favorite secret coffee shops in town, mainly because of the stunning stained glass ceiling.
Craft Coffee in Newtown — another one of my favorites.

My tour with Kennedy took place just before Christmas, when several of his normal coffee stops were closed. Expect even more interesting and secret coffee shops if you do the tour now.

My favorite part of the tour was cycling for a long stretch down Henry Nxumalo Street, which runs directly under the M1 Highway. It was cool and shady under the highway as we peddled slightly downhill. I loved watching the cement bridge stretch out above me, narrowing to a point in the distance.

At the end of the bridge, a perfect Craft Coffee flat white awaited.

Under the M1 Highway.
Newtown sights.
Photo by Kennedy Tembo.

Exciting Announcement About Kennedy (and Me)

Next Thursday, 21 February, I’m holding a second launch event for the 2Summers #Gauteng52 Challenge book. The launch will take place at the Jesuit Institute in Auckland Park, which I’m super excited about, and Kennedy has agreed to co-host the event with me. Yay!

Kennedy, like me, is a Joburg transplant — he is originally from Malawi, one of my favorite countries — who has made a living out of exploring this city and its surrounds. He’s also just a really fun guy. I’m looking forward to chatting with him about all things Joburg and Gauteng. Please join us for the launch.

My Micro-adventure cycling and coffee tour was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine. Follow Micro-adventure Tours on Facebook for more information about upcoming tours.

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 got worried about safety so we left after about 15 minutes of exploring. Looking back now, I wish I’d stayed and shot 1000 more frames.

Inside Somerset House, 2015What I saw when I first walked into Somerset House, sometime in 2015. The Fox Street entrance is behind me. The building’s staircase is somewhere behind those metal grates.

Looking down from the second floor of Somerset House, 2015Looking down from the second floor (Americans would call it the third floor) in 2015. Note the clothes hanging on the railing below and the two children near the stairway; there were several families living in the building back then. I’m standing with my back to the Fox Street side. The then-closed-off Gandhi Square side is in front of me.

Third floor of Somerset House, 2015Another look at the second (third) floor of the building in 2015. A bit of the metal-covered ceiling is visible. The white and brown rectangle is the old-fashioned lift, which has been out of operation for decades.

Little did I know that three years later, Somerset House would be in the middle of a glorious restoration and JoburgPlaces, one of my favorite Jozi tour companies, would take up occupancy there.

This story has some twists and turns so try to stay with me.

History of Somerset House

Somerset House, Fox Street entranceSomerset House on the Fox Street side as it looks today. Unfortunately I didn’t shoot any photos of the outside in 2015.

Somerset House is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Joburg, built in 1906. The basement and ground floors were originally occupied by the United Building Society, precursor to Absa Bank: The ground floor housed the bank offices and the United safety deposit boxes were in the basement. The bank eventually needed more space and moved out in 1930, at which time the building was renamed Somerset House.

The Gandhi Square entrance was closed off in the 1970s to make more space for the Traffic Square restaurant, a long-term tenant on the ground floor. Like many buildings in downtown Joburg, Somerset House slowly decayed as the inner city declined in the 1980s and 90s.

In 2017, visionary Joburg property developer Gerald Olitzki bought the building — Olitski owns most of the buildings around Gandhi Square and is responsible for the amazing rejuvenation in that area over the past two decades — and committed to restoring it.

(This is an extremely abridged version of more than 100 years of Joburg history. For a far more detailed and fascinating historical account of Somerset House and its surrounding buildings, read this article in the Heritage Portal by Joburg historian Lucille Davie.)

Somerset House Today

In March 2018 my friend Gerald Garner (not to be confused with Gerald Olitski), founder of JoburgPlaces, sent me an invite to visit an exciting new project of his. The invite came as no surprise; Gerald is in the habit of starting exciting new projects. In 2014 he spearheaded the development of the 1 Fox precinct and in 2016 he did the same at One Eloff Street. This time around it’s Somerset House and I think it’s Gerald’s most exciting project yet.

JoburgPlaces is partnering with Olitski Property Holdings on the restoration of Somerset House and eventually has plans to buy space in the building. As usual, Gerald (Garner) is thinking big. Somerset House will become the starting point for JoburgPlaces tours, and will also house a restaurant/bar/events venue called the Thunderwalker. There will be a boutique hotel and penthouse apartments and all kinds of exciting things. But let me not get ahead of myself.

I showed up at Somerset House with my camera at the end of March 2018, eager to see what had happened since 2015. The place was still a construction zone but the changes were dramatic.

View from the first floor of Somerset House in March 2018Looking down from the first (second) floor, facing the Gandhi Square side, in March 2018. The checkered floor and green tiles were covered up at the time. The Gandhi Square entrance had been re-opened. 

Ground floor of Somerset House, March 2018View of the ground floor and an unhappy-looking construction worker.

Somerset House first floor in March 2018View from the second (third) floor, facing the Fox Street side.

The most exciting part of our March 2018 tour was the visit to Somerset House’s basement, which I hadn’t seen in 2015. As I mentioned, the basement housed about 1000 United Bank safety deposit boxes. The boxes are still there today.

Gerald told us the basement would be the future home of the JoburgPlaces Zwipi Underground Bar.

Somerset House basement stairwayThe basement stairway as it looked in March 2018.

Safety deposit boxes at Somerset HouseThe safety deposit boxes. As you can see, some of them are open but the majority of the boxes are locked and the keys were lost decades ago. No one knows what’s in those locked boxes now but it would be extremely expensive to have them all opened. So for now they’re staying closed.

Heather in the Somerset House basementMe at the entrance to the safety deposit box room. (Photo: Fiver Löcker)

Future home of the Zwipi underground bar at Somerset HouseThis photo wasn’t shot in March 2018, but just a couple of weeks ago in the first weekend of August. I need to include it though and you’ll see why in a minute.

Opening the Zwipi Underground Bar

Fast-forward about four months to last Thursday evening — the “Imaginary” opening of the JoburgPlaces Zwipi Underground Bar. The restoration is by no means finished so this was a “soft” launch — the bar won’t open permanently to the public until September. Nonetheless, I was blown away by the interior of the building, especially the basement.

Ground floor of Somerset House, August 2018The ground floor — still quite rough but getting there.

Basement of Somerset House in August 2018The basement — wow!

Zwipi Underground Bar in August 2018The Zwipi Underground Bar. Remember the photo above of the guy in red coveralls? The space went from that to this in less than a week.

Safety deposit box room in August 2018The new and improved safety deposit box room.

Safety deposit boxes at Somerset House, August 2018Safety deposit boxes, jazzed up with fairy lights.

How to Visit Somerset House

If you’ve read this far, I imagine you’re excited to see Somerset House for yourself. This link on the JoburgPlaces website explains where things stand at the moment. In short though, I recommend booking a JoburgPlaces “Secret Safari & Underground Dinner” or a JoburgPlaces walking tour (most of which now include a walk through the Thunderwalker venue).

In particular I recommend the “Money, Banks and Vaults” tour, which includes the old United safety deposit boxes and many other hidden bank buildings and vaults around the inner city. That tour is a story for another blog post.

Congratulations to Gerald and the JoburgPlaces team.

JoburgPlaces team in Somerset HouseLeft to right: JoburgPlaces guide Charlie, JoburgPlaces founder Gerald, friend of JoburgPlaces Manuela, JoburgPlaces event manager Koketso, and friend of JoburgPlaces Fiver. Shot in March in what would soon become the Zwipi Underground Bar.

Marie-Lais and Lucky cycling through Diepsloot

Cycling Tour Through Diepsloot

Diepsloot is one of those places, like a lot of other Joburg places, where people are afraid to go.

Diepsloot streetA Diepsloot street.

Diepsloot, which means “deep ditch” in Afrikaans, is a huge informal settlement in the far northern outskirts of Joburg; in fact, it is so far north that it’s just as close to Pretoria as it is to Joburg. It emerged from nothing on an abandoned farm in the 1990s, as migrants poured into Joburg from rural South Africa and the rest of Africa and had nowhere else to go.

Hundreds of corrugated iron shacks sprouted up, then thousands. There were no public services, no police stations or hospitals or shopping centers. Diepsloot was a wild, post-apartheid frontier — one of those places that can only exist in South Africa.

Diepsloot shopJust another day in Diepsloot.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people live in Diepsloot and the number continues to grow. The area has more infrastructure than it did a couple of decades ago, but it still has an anything-goes kind of feeling about it.

Diepsloot has kota stands, open sewers, vibrant community centers, secret gardens, fashion designers, herds of goats, Rastafarian hair-braiding shops, colorfully painted general dealers, and salons with eye-catching names. Diepsloot is a good place to ride a bicycle.

Cycling in Diepsloot

Lucky Nkali has lived in Diepsloot all his life. I met him there several years ago during a photography project with the Joburg Photowalkers, and seven years later Lucky is still working to promote culture and tourism in Diepsloot.

Lucky has started a cycling tour business and will be conducting a tour during the upcoming Jozi Walks weekend. In advance of the Jozi Walks event, which happens on May 19th and 20th, Marie-Lais and I decided to give Lucky’s tour a test ride.

Lucky Nkali in DiepslootThe oh-so-stylish Lucky Nkali.

Getting bikes ready for Diepsloot cycling tourGetting our bikes ready to ride through Diepsloot.

Marie-Lais and Lucky cycling through DiepslootOn the road.

I’ve written about bike rides and tours all over Joburg — Soweto, Alexandra, the Joburg CBD. The Diepsloot tour is much like all of these; just a fun, different way to see an interesting part of town that I might not otherwise go to. Lucky was a great host, leading us on our rickety bicycles through Diepsloot’s various extensions.

Some of Diepsloot’s extensions, which are numbered according to the order in which they were built, have wide, paved streets with bus shelters and bike lanes. Others are densely packed with shacks, on streets so narrow we had to walk our bikes through.

I saw many cool things on this tour, but it’s really difficult to ride a bike (especially a rickety one) and take photos simultaneously. I did manage a few shots, but generally I just had to stop being a photographer for most of the morning and take in the scenery with my actual eyes.

DiepslootExtension 1.

Diepsloot streetOne of the newer extensions.

Diepsloot gardenA secret garden on a quiet, unpaved street.

Hair salon in DiepslootMy favorite sign of the day: The Lil-Psyfo Hair-Studio.

How to Prepare for a Diepsloot Cycling Tour

Wear closed shoes, lots of sunscreen, a hat, and pants/shorts that you don’t like very much because they might get splattered with mud/sewage. Bring some spending money and a backpack because Lucky makes shopping stops along the way. Be prepared to ride a rickety bike — the bikes Lucky uses are refurbished by local mechanics in Diepsloot.

Do not worry about safety. You are perfectly safe in Lucky’s hands.

The Diepsloot tour during the Jozi Walks weekend is already fully booked. But follow Blackbite Productions on Facebook for updates on future bike tours and other events.

One big family in DiepslootOne Big Family in Diepsloot.

Skateboarding tour in front go graffiti

Skateboarding Across Jozi

I consider myself a connoisseur of Joburg walking tours. When I found out there is a skateboarding tour of Joburg, I obviously had to try it.

Skateboarding tour in front go graffiti
From left to right: Ayanda, Tiffanie, Marie-Lais, and Tshepo during our City Skate Tour, in front of a graffiti piece by Tapz.

I somehow made it through more than four decades of life without riding a skateboard. How different could it be from walking? I thought.

Quite different, as it turns out. Standing on a four-wheeled piece of wood, sailing downhill, is nothing like walking at all — it’s both far more exhilarating and far more terrifying.

I’m really glad I did the tour but the next time I’m going to spend less time taking pictures and more time actually learning how to skateboard. Let’s just say I still have a long way to go.

Skateboarding with City Skate Tours

Marie-Lais and I met our guides from City Skate Tours, Ayanda Mnandu and Tshepo Tsotsotso, and fellow tourist Tiffanie at Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng. We spent a half hour or so learning skateboarding basics on the hill in front of Curiocity. Ayanda and Tshepo are great teachers.

After many tries, I felt like I was sort of getting the hang of getting on and off the board, speeding up and slowing down. I didn’t really figure out how to turn, but I kind of figured out how to not veer off the road.

Then I got off the board and spent the rest of the practice session taking pictures.

Marie-Lais skateboardingWith help from Tshepo, Marie-Lais sails bravely down the hill in front of Curiocity.

Tiffanie and Amanda practice skateboardingAyanda imparts some skateboarding tips to Tiffanie.

Tshepo skateboardingTshepo shows us how it’s done.

Before we set off, a woman walked past me. “Are you sure you want to do this with your CAMERA?” she asked. I laughed, slung my camera across my shoulder, and off we went, rolling slowly down Fox Street and hanging a right into the heart of the city.

We spent less time skateboarding than we did walking, carrying the boards with us and hopping on when we found a good spot without too many people or cars. Ayanda told us about Joburg as we walked. Obviously Marie-Lais and I know most of the Joburg story already. But the information was great for Tiffanie, who is a tour operator from Jamaica. We cruised through New Doornfontein, admiring the graffiti along the way.

From New Doornfontein we caught an Uber through the busiest part of the city and got out near the old City Hall building, now the Gauteng Legislature.

Skateboarding at the Gauteng LegislaturePracticing in front of the Gauteng Legislature.

Guy skateboarding in front of legislatureA random passerby who asked to borrow a skateboard.

Marie-Lais took a bit of a fall but got right back up again and carried on. We all applauded. I hadn’t fallen yet, but to be honest I hadn’t ridden my board very much.

Skating down Fox StreetSkating/walking down Fox Street.

We made our way to Beyers Naudé Square, in front of the Joburg City Library. This is one of the most popular skateboarding spots in the city.

"Democracy is Dialogue" statue in Beyers Naude SquareThe stunning “Democracy is Dialogue” sculpture in Beyers Naudé Square. The sculpture, by Lawrence Lemaoana, portrays a mother wielding a molotov cocktail.

At this point I asked Tshepo to record an iPhone video of me riding my skateboard. This is also the point in which I fell, hard. Actually I didn’t just fall — I wiped out spectacularly. It was pretty epic and I still have a couple of bruises from it two weeks later. (I was totally fine though.)

Those of you who follow me on Instagram might have been lucky enough to catch the fall in my Instagram story that day. (You’re welcome.) If not, well, I’m sorry for you. You missed out on a good laugh and Instagram stories only stay up for 24 hours.

I suppose it’s important to fall while learning to skateboard and I was silly to think I could escape that embarrassment. The best news is my camera survived completely intact, despite hitting the pavement fairly hard. (Thank god for my lens hood, which broke the fall just enough to protect the camera.) Needless to say, that lady was right and I will not be skateboarding with my camera again.

Heather with a skateboardI think I look pretty cool holding a skateboard. I looked way less cool riding/falling off of it. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond).

This tour is a great way to see the city from a slightly different perspective, especially if you’ve done other walking tours and are keen for something new. I recommend it. Just leave your DSLR behind and wear a helmet.

To arrange a tour, contact Ayanda at cityskatetours@gmail.com. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Ayanda skating past the Nelson Mandela portrait at Museum AfricaAyanda skating past Museum Africa in Newtown.

My City Skate Tour was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.

Man walking through Killarney during Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tour

The Heritage of Johannesburg’s Middle-Class Suburbs

The weekend after Heritage Day, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation has an annual tradition of offering a whole programme of tours at very affordable prices. There are about a dozen tours to choose from over the course of two days and you can do three tours for R150, or about $11. (Read about last year’s Heritage Weekend.)

This year I intentionally chose two walking tours through neighboring Joburg suburbs — one in Forest Town and one in Killarney — because I thought they’d be fun to blog about together.

Walking through Forest Town on Heritage WeekendWalking through Forest Town.

For those of you who don’t live in South Africa, I should explain that the term suburb has a different meaning in South Africa than it does in the U.S. or other places. The city of Joburg is made up of dozens of suburbs, which are more like neighborhoods in American cities. Each suburb has its own identity and often engenders fierce loyalty among its residents. (My love for Melville is a good example.)

Forest Town and Killarney, despite being almost adjacent, are totally different from one another. I loved exploring them both.

Forest Town: Joburg’s English Forest

Forest Town was founded in the first decade of the 1900s, and our tour guide Ed Coogan describes it as Joburg’s first middle-class suburb. (Before that Joburg was basically a sprawling mining camp with one wealthy suburb, Parktown, where all the rich people lived.)

Forest Town was built on the edge of a man-made forest, planted by rich English people who wanted a forest to hunt in. (I kid you not.) All the streets in Forest Town are named after English forests; Sherwood Road is the most recognizable example.

Epping Road in Forest TownEpping Road, another foresty Forest Town street.

Our tour of Forest Town started at the new Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, which isn’t officially open to the public yet. (UPDATE: I’m told by two readers that the centre is indeed open, but I think it’s best to call in advance just in case.) The museum includes exhibits honoring those killed during the Holocaust of World War II, as well as the victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide CentreOutside the beautiful new museum. Those are actual train tracks running up the wall, representing the plight of the millions of people who were transported to concentration camps by train during the Holocaust.

Inside the Holocaust and Genocide CentreInside the centre.

From the Holocaust and Genocide Centre we embarked on a brisk, five-kilometer walk through leafy Forest Town. We didn’t get to go inside any private houses but Ed did tell us some interesting stories about several of them, including one property that has served (at various times) as both a gay brothel and a temporary home for animals of the Joburg Zoo. We also stood outside a house owned by South African President Jacob Zuma, which was raided before Zuma’s corruption trial in 2005.

House in Forest TownA house in Forest Town. I can’t remember if there is an interesting story behind it but I thought it was cute.

Jacob Zuma's house in Forest TownJacob Zuma’s house. I guess he doesn’t live there currently but I was still really surprised that it seems to have no security, beyond the typical high wall and electric fence.(UPDATE: One reader commented that Jacob Zuma never owned this house but actually rented it. This would make more sense.)

Our last stop in Forest Town was St. Francis in the Forest, a quaint Methodist Church built in 1937. I used to attend a 12-step meeting at St. Francis and had been there dozens of times, but strangely never inside the actual chapel. It’s so beautiful.

Ed Coogan at St. FrancisEd addresses the tour group outside St. Francis.

Inside St. Francis chapelInside the chapel.

Killarney: Manhattan Living in Joburg

I’ve always been intrigued by Killarney, whose original owner came (not surprisingly) from Ireland.

Killarney ParkA taste of Ireland in Africa. Killarney is known for the interesting fonts on its many apartment buildings.

Killarney is unique among Joburg’s older northern suburbs in that it’s populated almost exclusively by low-slung apartment buildings (or “blocks of flats”, as they say here) — there is only one freestanding house in Killarney. I have a few friends who’ve lived in Killarney over the years and I love its spacious, light-filled apartments.

Typical flats in KillarneyA typical building in Killarney.

Killarney was purchased in the 1930s by I.W. Schlesinger, a wealthy American transplant who built Africa’s first film studio on the site of what is now Killarney Mall.

Schlesinger — much like the British founders of Forest Town who wanted their suburb to resemble an English forest — wanted his suburb to resemble a neighborhood in uptown Manhattan, just with smaller and fewer buildings. I suppose he kind of succeeded, although the notable difference between Killarney and Manhattan is Killarney has virtually no shops or restaurants except the ones in the mall.

Daventry Court in KillarneyDaventry Court, built in 1934, is one of the oldest and best examples of Art Deco architecture in Killarney.

Glenhof Gardens in KillarneyGlenhof Gardens. Such a beautiful building.

Mediterranean building in KillarneyOur tour guide, Adam Golding, lives in this building. I love the sea-blue font.

Killarney CourtMany of Killarney’s buildings have been altered over the years, not always for the better. The ugly black font of this building name is a good example. The old retro sign below it is so much prettier.

Gleneagles Court in KillarneyGleneagles Court, another historic Art Deco building. We were able to go inside the lobby, which is stunning.

Post boxes in Gleneagles CourtI was fascinated by these mailboxes, or postboxes as they’re called in South Africa. In addition to being beautiful, the boxes are made in Brooklyn and approved by the U.S. Postmaster General. I suppose it’s another shout-out to Schlesinger’s Manhattan lifestyle.

Thanks to the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation for another great Heritage Weekend. The foundation runs tours all year round, all over Joburg, and there are some really great ones coming up. Follow them on Facebook to stay informed.

Video Town in La Rochelle

#JoziWalks: Exploring Johannesburg’s Forgotten Frontiers

Last weekend the Johannesburg Development Agency sponsored 13 walking tours all over the city as part of an initiative called #JoziWalks. The weekend was meant to encourage Joburgers to get out of their cars and engage with urban communities in ways they might not do otherwise.

Kids in Noordgesig during the #Joziwalks eventKids in the Soweto suburb of Noordgesig. 

#JoziWalks was an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve been on many walking tours in Johannesburg but #JoziWalks offered tours in places I’d never been, and the tours were free. The only bad part was most of the tours happened concurrently and I had to make agonizing choices over which ones to participate in.

I eventually settled on a Saturday morning tour of La Rochelle, a suburb in the south of Joburg known for its Portuguese culture, and a Sunday tour of Noordgesig, a suburb on the edge of Soweto that played a big role in the anti-apartheid struggle.

#JoziWalks La Rochelle

Our tour of La Rochelle was led by Judith Muindisi of Tsica Heritage Consultants and Calvin Montgomery of the Southern Suburbs Heritage Society.

La Rochelle, just south of the city center, is best known for Parreirinha, Joburg’s most famous Portuguese restaurant. I myself had only been to La Rochelle once before, to eat dinner at Parreirinha. (Incidentally La Rochelle is right next to Turffontein, where I recently visited the Turffontein Racecourse.)

Dining room at Parreirinha in La RochelleThe dining room at Parreirinha. Fun fact: This building was a prison before it became a restaurant in 1975.

La Rochelle, together with neighboring Rosettenville, has always been a gritty, working-class neighborhood populated by immigrants — Irish, then Portuguese, then a mix of African immigrants including Nigerians and Mozambicans.

The La Rochelle of today has taken “grittiness” to a new level. As we walked along La Rochelle’s main drag, Johannesburg Road, and the adjacent Dias Street, I felt I was in a forgotten place. There are ubiquitous piles of trash (Judith says waste removal is sporadic), broken windows, smoldering street fires, and a general feeling of lawlessness.

Video Town in La RochelleOn the border of La Rochelle and Rosettenville, at the end of the Dias Street Mall. 

But like the other “forgotten” Jozi neighborhoods I’ve visited, La Rochelle has a lot worth remembering: delectable Portuguese pastries, funky shop names, crazy churches, elaborately painted tiles, and quirky architecture. I loved every minute of this walk.

Portuguese pastries on Johannesburg Road, La RochelleCustard tarts from Portugal Bakery and Confectionery on Johannesburg Road. I brought one of these home for Ray and he nearly died of gratitude. We might have to make another pilgrimage soon: Portugal Bakery and Confectionery deserves a post of its own.

Ministry sign on Johannesburg Road in La RochelleI suspect there are fascinating stories waiting to be told inside this building.

Christ Believers MinistriesChrist Believers Ministries.

Hollywood HouseHollywood House.

Dias Street Mall, La RochelleThe Dias Street Mall, a dilapidated pedestrian shopping street.

Car wash in La Rochelle
The Jet Joe Car Wash and Soap Shop. I’m guessing it used to be a fast food joint.

Sao Vicente La RochelleStaff at Sao Vicente, another legendary Portuguese restaurant.

Edwardian house in La RochelleAn Edwardian-style house, built in 1906. 

Park in La RochelleTile work in the park at the center of La Rochelle.

Our tour concluded at the Faraday Taxi Association across from St. Patrick’s church, where we enjoyed a Pan-African lunch with Nigerian, Zimbabwean, and Portuguese dishes.

#JoziWalks: Noordgesig

The Noordgesig tour was led by heritage consultant Jaques Stoltz, together with a group of community leaders.

Street in NoordgesigA half-dismantled mine dump looms behind a street in Noordgesig. Mine dumps are giant piles of waste generated from Joburg’s gold mines, which were used to separate white-only Johannesburg from non-white areas on the fringes of the city. Today, the mine dumps are slowly shrinking as companies re-process the waste in search of traces of gold.

Men walk past a house in NoordgesigDapper men walk past a dapper house in Noordgesig.

Not only had I never been to Noordgesig before this tour, I had never even heard of it. (I also didn’t have a clue how to pronounce it. I still don’t.) In many ways Noordgesig is also a forgotten place.

Noordgesig was founded in the 1930s as a “coloured” township, and eventually became part of Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnships) when Soweto was officially formed in the 1960s.

I use the South African spelling of “coloured”, in quotation marks, because this word has a uniquely South African context. Historically, “coloured” in South Africa refers to a mixed-race person — someone who cannot be classified as “black”, “white”, “Indian”, or any of the other racial classifications so important to apartheid and pre-apartheid South Africa. (Never mind that it’s usually impossible to identify a “coloured” person simply by looking at him/her. But it goes without saying that South African racial classifications never made sense.) The word “coloured” continues to be used in South Africa today, although many people historically classified as such have shunned it.

I provided this clumsy explanation because the history of South Africa’s “coloured” communities is complicated and often overlooked. This is probably part of the reason why the existence of Noordgesig — which is right next to Orlando, Soweto’s most famous township — had passed me by until now.

Unfortunately I got the time wrong and arrived in Noordgesig an hour late, a bit frazzled. So I didn’t absorb everything. But here’s a quick rundown of what happened:

1) We walked past the homes of several prominent anti-apartheid activists, many of whom played a role in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings, as community members provided historical context.

2) There was a marching band!

3) The group participated in a ceremony honoring late great South African flyweight boxer Jake Tuli, who lived in Noordgesig for much of his life.

Another Noordgesig street scene.

Noordgesig houseTribute to the Orlando Pirates, one of Soweto’s legendary soccer clubs.

Noodgesis Brass Band ready to performThe Second Noordgesig Brass Band Brigade, preparing to march.

Guys. I LOVE MARCHING BANDS.

Band marchesThe band marches.

Band playingI’ve got lots more band photos but let me stop now.

Boxing memorabilia in Jake Tuli's houseBoxing memorabilia inside Jake Tuli’s house. I love boxing almost as much as I love marching bands so this part of the day was also really exciting for me.

Jake Tuli house and plaqueUnveiling a historical plaque with Tuli’s family. 

Walk Jozi

I’m thrilled to have been part of this exciting Jozi weekend. Thanks to the Johannesburg Development Agency, the Johannesburg In Your Pocket Guide, and all the tour guides and participants who made it happen. I hope you do it again, and maybe spread the tours out over several weekends so I can do all of them rather than just two.

If you missed the #JoziWalks, I have good news: There are great walking tours happening nearly every day in Johannesburg. To get yourself started, check out my posts on JoburgPlaces, Past Experiences, MainStreetWalks, Dlala Nje, and Roving Bantu Tours.

Get walking.

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 with Muhammed DockratFlo 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 M1 highway to the Nizamiye mosque in Midrand. I’ve written about the Nizamiye mosque — a smaller replica of the Selimiye Camii mosque in Turkey — before, so I won’t repeat myself. But I will repeat that this mosque is spectacular and such a fun place to visit. If you haven’t been yet, go. The mosque is open every day and tours are free.

Nizamiye Mosque minaretsLooking up from inside the courtyard at the Nizamiye mosque.

Shoes outside the Nizamiye MosqueThe most fabulous pair of shoes left outside the mosque’s prayer hall.

People gathered inside the Nizamiye mosqueTourists inside the mosque. We had a brief but informative lecture from my old friend Ahmet Çoban, the PR representative at the Nizamiye Complex.

Ceiling of Nizamiye mosqueThe ceiling of the Nizamiye mosque, hand-painted by artisans from Turkey.

Tiles in the Nizamiye mosqueOne of thousands of handmade tiles in the mosque.

Nizamiye mosque sketchMy friend Fiver came on the tour and decided to bring her sketchbook rather than a camera. This is her Nizamiye mosque sketch in progress.

Please go back and read my old post about Nizamiye for more information.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid

We loaded ourselves back into the bus and headed across town to the residential suburb of Northcliff, where we visited the Northcliff Jummah Musjid. (“Jummah” means Friday in Arabic, and “Musjid” means mosque.) This small, yellow-brick mosque, which accommodates less than 200 worshipers, is about a tenth the size of the Nizamiye mosque, with far less grandeur. But I loved the beautiful simplicity of this community gathering place.

Northcliff Jummah MusjidOutside the Northcliff Jummah Musjid. 

Northcliff Jummah Musjid minaretThe mosque’s single minaret.

I enjoyed the short talk by Muhammed Dockrat, the Northcliff Jummah Musjid chairperson, about the origin of this mosque. It was only completed about five years ago. (Thinking back now, I vaguely remember watching the mosque take shape during weekly visits to the Impala fruit and veg shop, which is across the street.) But the process began many years before, when the Northcliff congregation first began meeting in a creche (nursery school) across the road. Eventually they raised enough money to purchase a house, where they held services temporarily as the mosque was constructed on an adjacent property.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid wood carvingIncredible woodwork on the mosque’s front door.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid imamOmar Bham, the imam at Northcliff Jummah Musjid. An imam is to Islam what a minister or priest is to Christianity.

Northcliff Jummah Musjid carpetI love the carpets in this mosque. Then again, I’ve never met a mosque carpet that I didn’t love.

I would have liked to spend more time at Northcliff Jummah Musjid, taking photos and talking to the staff. But we had to hurry on to our final destination — the mosque that drove me to sign up for this tour in the first place.

Kerk Street Mosque

The Kerk Street Mosque, located in the heart of downtown Joburg, is the oldest mosque in the city. (In an interesting side note, “Kerk” means church in Afrikaans.) Originally built in 1906, the Kerk Street Mosque was reconstructed in 1918 and again in 1990.

Kerk Street Mosque JohannesburgThe Kerk Street Mosque (right), at the corner of Kerk Street and Pixley Seme (formerly Sauer) Street.

Kerk Street Mosque minaret reflectionA reflection of the mosque’s minaret in the modern building across the street.

There are several things that I find amazing about this mosque:

1) Even though the building is relatively new, it still feels old.

2) Somehow the mosque blends in with the modern buildings around it, while also standing apart.

3) The mosque is built on Johannesburg’s square city grid, but the interior of the mosque is tilted 11 degrees to the north to face toward Mecca. Don’t ask me to explain this in further detail, as I am not an architect. But it doesn’t take an architect to see that this mosque is an architectural work of genius.

Kerk Street Mosque basementThe basement prayer area of the Kerk Street Mosque. How amazing are the arches? Apparently the arches are made more amazing by the fact that they are constructed completely of brick, with no steel whatsoever. Again, I can’t explain why this is significant. (#NotAnArchitect.) But the arches are stunning and my photo does them no justice whatsoever.

Inside the Kerk Street MosqueThe first floor prayer room in Kerk Street Mosque. There is also a balcony above this room, surrounded by a beautiful wooden lattice.

Kerk Street Mosque archesI struggled to take good photos inside this mosque. We were there in the late afternoon when there was very little natural light, my camera didn’t capture the colors properly, and the structure is just too magnificent to properly photograph. But here you can see a glimpse of the beautifully carved arches and the dome at the top.

Carving inside Kerk Street MosqueIntricate carving in the qibla wall, which faces toward Mecca and points congregants toward the correct direction in which to pray. (Hopefully I’m getting this right. If not, someone please correct me.)

Kerk Street Mosque reflectionsA reflection of the Kerk Street Mosque, shot from a small balcony outside the first floor.

My only complaint about this tour is that it was too short. I wanted to visit more mosques, as there are scores (maybe hundreds) in Joburg. I suppose I’ll have to do some explorations on my own, and hopefully the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation will have more mosque tours in the future.

If you’re interested in signing up for Johannesburg Heritage Foundation tours — the Foundation offers all different kinds of tours, all over the city — please follow them on Facebook. If you’re interested in seeing more Joburg mosque photos, check out this interesting blog.

My tour with the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was complimentary. Opinions expressed are my own.

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 at the Roving Bantu KitchenSifiso 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.

Roving Bantu Kitchen at nightThe Roving Bantu Kitchen.

Inside the Roving Bantu KitchenInside the Roving Bantu Kitchen.

Over the last few months I’ve been to the Roving Bantu for film documentaries and meals, and even for my friend Fiver’s book launch.

Fiver at her book launch at the Roving Bantu KitchenFiver launched her book, Looking for Africa, at the Roving Bantu Kitchen two weeks ago. (Click this link to learn where/how to buy the book.)

But before writing this post, I had to take a Roving Bantu Tour.

Sifiso is the self-proclaimed Roving Bantu: He was born in Mpumalanga, spent his youth in Soweto and Johannesburg, then roamed the rest of Africa and the world as a political exile before returning to Joburg and settling in Brixton after apartheid ended. Sifiso has a unique outlook on South African history and he shares that outlook on his Roving Bantu Tours, when he takes guests by foot, car, and tuk-tuk on wide-ranging historical journeys through Joburg.

I love Joburg tours. I’ve written about all of my favorites (plus several more — read here and here and here), and each tour has something different to offer.

The Roving Bantu Tour

The Roving Bantu Tour is unique because of the interesting way that Sfi has lived through the history of this city, and this country. There is nothing objective about the Roving Bantu Tour; Sfi’s perspectives are personal and political and painfully honest. He will tell you things that you might not be prepared to hear.

Also, Sfi takes his guests to rarely visited, forgotten parts of Joburg with strange names like Cottesloe and Jan Hofmeyer and Vrededorp. I had never been to most of these places, despite the fact that they’re important historical sites and close to where I live.

I won’t try to recount all the anecdotes and stories and facts that Sifiso told us during the tour, as that would require a 15,000-word essay rather than a blog post. But I’ll hit a few highlights.

We started at the Roving Bantu Kitchen and set out on foot around Brixton.

Graffiti in BrixtonGraffiti in one of Brixton’s many historic alleyways.

Beautiful house and graffiti in BrixtonMore Brixton graffiti, by artist Kevin Love.

Brixton is what real estate agents in the United States would call a “transitional neighborhood”. When I first met Sifiso he referred to Brixton as “the asshole of Johannesburg”, because everyone has to pass through it whether they want to or not. Brixton sits close to the geographical center of the city and bridges the historical divide between white and non-white, rich and poor, old and new. Brixton still straddles these lines today. The neighborhood is edgy and mutlicultural, comfortable and unsettling at the same time.

Playground in Kingston Frost ParkPlayground equipment in Brixton’s Kingston Frost Park. The Brixton community is working to preserve this lovely, historic park, but according to Sfi it’s an uphill battle against government corruption and apathy.

Brixton TowerThe iconic Brixton Tower, owned by Sentech, which controls the country’s TV and radio waves.

From Brixton, we hopped into Sifiso’s car and headed to a jumble of neighborhoods just to the south. Our first stop was Cottesloe, a tiny suburb I’d never heard of that’s mostly inhabited by a group referred to in South Africa as “poor whites”.

We parked at the bottom of a grassy hill, near a quaint, country-style church with the downtown Joburg skyline looming behind it.

Cottesloe Dutch Reformed Church and the Joburg skylineThe Cottesloe Dutch Reformed Church, with Wits University and downtown Joburg behind it. I was stunned by this view, as it’s an angle on Joburg I’d never seen before. 

This small church played a pivotal role in the history of apartheid, the Sharpeville Massacre (which occurred exactly 56 years ago today), and the life of anti-apartheid activist Beyers Naudé. It’s too complicated to explain in this post but you can read about it here.

Not far from the church, on a little hill strewn with garbage and human feces, is a stone monument to Afrikaans soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer War.

Anglo-Boer War Memorial in CottesloeIt’s difficult to explain the incongruousness of this crumbling old monument overlooking modern Johannesburg. South Africa is a complicated place.

In Cottesloe, we also ran into a cute cat that looks like Hitler.

Cute cat in FietasCute Hitler cat.

We passed through Fietas (also known as Vrededorp/Pageview), which, like Sophiatown, was the site of brutal forced removals during the apartheid era. Many of Fietas’ homes and shops were bulldozed in the 1970s, when the area’s Indian residents were moved to the far-flung township of Lenasia and their businesses relocated to the nearby Oriental Plaza. Today, Fietas’ formerly bustling 14th Street is a wasteland, with a small plaque commemorating the street’s former glory.

14th Avenue in FietasPlaque commemorating 14th Street, with a few street vendors and informal recyclers in the background. Part of the plaque reads: “People lived and traded here for generations but were uprooted by the Group Areas Act of apartheid that summarily declared Vrededorp/Pageview a white residential area. Despite a protracted battle since 1968 and fierce resistance towards the end, all the traders of Fietas were finally evicted in 1977 to the Oriental Plaza in neighboring Fordsburg. Many lost their livelihood.” Across the street is a mosque that survived bulldozing after the forced removals. 

From Fietas we moved on to the historic Braamfontein Cemetery. Braamfontein Cemetery, similar to the nearby Brixton Cemetery, is filled with elaborate, intricately carved gravestones dating back to the late 1800s.

Grave stone in Braamfontein CemeteryOne of many beautiful gravestones in Braamfontein Cemetery.

But there is a lot more to Braamfontein Cemetery than these large, expensive gravestones that mark the resting places of mostly rich, mostly white South Africans. Sifiso led us to a different part of the cemetery, a flat, smooth expanse of green grass, which houses what used to be called the “Native Christian section”. There are no gravestones there — all of the graves were destroyed at some point in the past — but there is a large, beautiful new monument marking the grave of Enoch Sontonga.

Enoch Sontonga Memorial in Braamfontein CemeteryMemorial to Enoch Sontonga in the unmarked black section of Braamfontein Cemetery. 

Enoch Sontonga wrote Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa), which became an official anthem of the ANC and later was incorporated into the South African national anthem. Sontonga died in 1905 at the age of 32, but his grave wasn’t discovered in Braamfontein Cemetery until the early 1990s. The monument was dedicated in 1996 by President Mandela.

We visited a bunch of other cool things in Braamfontein Cemetery, including the Indian/Chinese portion of the cemetery and a section dedicated to British Empire soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer War. But I think the Enoch Sontonga memorial is a good place to wrap up this post.

After a quick trip to Constitution Hill, where Sifiso himself was once incarcerated at the Old Fort Prison’s notorious “Number Four”, we drove back to the Roving Bantu Kitchen for a late lunch. I can’t recommend the Roving Bantu’s food, most of which Sfi cooks himself, highly enough. We feasted on samoosas, spicy butterbean curry and rotis, washed down by Black Label beer.

Curry Lunch at the Roving Bantu KitchenA Roving Bantu Lunch.

If you want to schedule a Roving Bantu Tour, contact Sifiso and Ashley through the Roving Bantu Facebook page or call Sifiso on 072 223 2648. Sisifo has some interesting plans in the works, including a big tour around Joburg on 30 April (details to come on the Facebook page). The Facebook page also has information about other Roving Bantu events, including documentary (which Sfi calls “DarkieMentary”) screenings and special meals. The Kitchen is open for business from Thursday to Sunday, 5:00 p.m. to midnight.

Get roving.