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Joburg’s #JoziWalks unearth Joburg’s hidden jewels Print E-mail
07 July 2017

From Mooki Street in Orlando East to Ngwenyama Street in Diepsloot. From the Roving Bantu Kitchen in Brixton to the Mandela Yard in Alexandra. From Enoch Sontonga’s gravesite in Braamfontein Cemetery to Ponte City in Hillbrow in the Johannesburg inner city.

The list of exotic, exquisite, unique, historic, fascinating, amazing and interesting places in Johannesburg is simply endless.

This was once again reaffirmed recently when the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), the City of Johannesburg’s infrastructure development entity, opened up a total of 13 community-based tours to hundreds of people, local and foreign, in partnership with heritage organisations, community activists, photo walkers, tour guides and residents.

For the locals, the 13 #JoziWalks were an eye-opener as they had, in the words of veteran journalist and blogger Bridget Hilton-Barber – who was on the Brixton-Fietas Heritage Trek – succeeded in unearthing the City’s “hidden gems”.

For tourists from countries such as Italy, the United Kingdom, United States, France and Australia, the walks provided an unforgettable experience of Johannesburg.

“I’m thrilled to have been on this trek. It’s been a glimpse into a Johannesburg that’s still affected by its past but is also the epitome of resilience. Brixton, Jan Hofmeyr and Fietas are colourful and interesting suburbs that beg exploring,” said Hilton-Barber after touring the area in western Johannesburg.

The area has been described by resident and former political exile Sifiso ka Silas Ntuli as a “microcosm of the real South Africa, where all peoples live along one another in harmony and where we confront the reality of the past on a daily basis”.

For Ntuli, the 7km walk reopened the scars of the past, such as the Group Areas Act, an apartheid legislation that barred blacks from living in areas designated as whites-only suburbs. “South Africa’s history is right here and it’s a raw and real representation of the communities we don’t want to see,” he said.

This heritage trail also boasts tourist attractions such as Jan Hofmeyr, the location where Die Antwoord’s music video for I Fink You Freeky was shot; Jab’s tavern, Cottesloe, Fourteen Avenue Museum and the Braamfontein Cemetery, where Sontonga, who composed parts of the national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, was buried. The word bantu evokes strong and painful emotions for many black South Africans because of its offensiveness. But the Roving Bantu Kitchen on the corner of Caroline and Escher streets in Brixton is a delightful eatery that offers delicious traditional cuisines in an eclectic and visually vibrant setting.

Orlando East’s Mooki Street – named after African National Congress (ANC) leader Reverend OSD Mooki – and Ngwenyama Street in Diepsloot, are two of the most interesting streets in Johannesburg. While Mooki Street is the only street in the country that has eight heritage sites, Ngwenyama Street is the biggest marketplace in Diepsloot, a burgeoning suburb northwest Johannesburg.

“On this street,” said tour guide Mulaudzi, “you can buy the entire furniture for your house – your steel kitchen unit, kitchen utensils, cutlery, pots, blankets and dining room suite, you name it.”

On the other side of town, in Sophiatown, local walkers were given the opportunity to reconnect with their painful but memorable past, while foreign tourists had a glimpse of South Africa’s history of oppression, racial discrimination, forced removals, black people’s resilience in the face of adversity and the survival of the human spirit.

The two-hour tour of this historic neighbourhood included a visit to the home of Mama Elizabeth Ngobathane, who returned to live in the area after her family and hundreds others were forcibly removed from their homes in 1955 to be dumped in Meadowlands in line with the Group Areas Act. To connect them to that glorious era, she offered the visitors umqombothi, fat cakes and tea served with condensed milk.

The group also visited the Xuma Heritage House, the house in which former ANC president AB Xuma used to live. Dubbed the Sof’town Urban Experience, the tour was an amazing history journey for Nadia Chammai, 8, and Akunna Chikela, 9.

“We learnt a lot about South African history and we will tell our friends at school,” said Akunna.

On the eastern side of Johannesburg, tourists found out why La Rochelle, one of the settlements established shortly after the discovery of gold, has not lost its historical identity that has been an intrinsic part of the city all these years.

A number of buildings still standing in this former mining community have a unique architectural identity influenced by the Portuguese culture. The St Patrick Church, which spread the gospel since the early days of Johannesburg, is still there. Traditional dishes that include egusi soup, fried plantain, jollof rice (common in west and central Africa), traditional Portuguese pork and cabbage soup form part of the narrative of this community.

To the west of La Rochelle stands Hillbrow, and Ponte City, a landmark building with a sad history. As hundreds of young Soweto learners were being mowed down by apartheid police for protesting against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in black schools in 1976, the 52-floor circular-shaped skyscraper was opening its doors to white South Africans in search for urban thrill, ignorant of the tragedy of immense proportions that was unfolding on the other side of town.

“Not only did Ponte defy the architectural tradition of the time, its rugged structure was a symbol of rebellion. It was a symbol of prosperity,” explained tour guide Franck Leya a tour guide from Dlala Nje. But things began to change and Ponte became a symbol of resistance. But things began to change and Ponte became a symbol of resistance.

About 100 walkers who toured Alexandra – including visiting the Mandela Yard, where the late former President Nelson Mandela first lived when he arrived in Johannesburg from Qunu; and the Alexandra Beerhall – experienced a “true township vibe”.

“People have a certain perception about Alex and I believe that through such tours we will be able to give them a better understanding of the area and the crucial role the people of this community have played in the fight for freedom,” said tour guide Rachel Phasha.

Ben Viljoen was enthralled to be in Alexandra for the first time in his life. “This tour has been an eye-opener for me. It was a very pleasant experience and I learned a lot while I was here. I even had a chance to try out the chakalaka,” he said.

Those who toured the eastern suburbs of Norwood, Orchards, Sydenham and Orange Grove had, among other things, the pleasure of visiting Satyagraha House, originally known as the The Kraal, the house where Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1908 to 1909. It is the house where he developed the philosophy of passive resistance
Johannesburg has too many stories to tell. The more the tourists explored this 131-year-old city, the more they wanted more from it.

Photographer Gail Scott-Wilson succinctly summed it up when she said at the end of the Brixton-Fietas tour: “There really is so much rich and diverse character of the city to capture and enjoy. I am really keen to do this tour again.”

From the overwhelming positive feedback received from all involved the JDA is considering hosting similar tours in the near future.


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Last Updated on 07 July 2017