You can get a view of the city of JNB. Its 50 stories high , not tall enough for some but it is the tallest building in Africa.
You can see the newly built Nelson Mandela Bridge , The Brixton Tower "TV and Radio" , The Hillbrow Tower and you can see all the Gold Mines which surrounds the City.
Jo’burg is not a city that is usually associated with either culture or walking. So it’s particularly refreshing to highlight the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Society, which organises guided walks around historic areas of the city a couple of times a month, usually on a weekend. The name of the society is derived from two of Johannesburg’s more upmarket inner northern suburbs, but the scope of the society extends to other historic suburbs (such as Braamfontein, Kensington and Troyeville) depending on the focus of the tour.
Tours are lead either by historians or heritage architects and the range of offerings is surprisingly varied: in recent months, events have ranged from a costumed Victorian high tea in a historic mansion to a tour of the Art Deco buildings in the CBD (which I would love to have done and am hoping that they repeat soon). This is a great way to familiarise yourself with a little-appreciated aspect of a city that which does have a rich (if poorly publicised) historical heritage – as well as a chance to stretch your legs after that long haul flight!
From a security point of view, the walks take place in a group and are guided by people familiar with the area: I have never heard any suggestion that participants’ safety has been compromised. Let's be realistic: given the subject matter, it's no surprise that most of the participants are well heeled, middle aged Northern Suburbanites with an interest in local history and/or architecture, but it does give you a chance to meet some locals and get their perspective on their city
Some forthcoming offerings (taken from their website):
"Braamfontein Cemetery Pioneers and Heroes of Johannesburg' (Saturday 19 June 2010):
This is Johannesburg’s oldest public cemetery where some of our most colourful early citizens await our visit - from the diminutive boxing champion to the Father of Johannesburg. Amongst the heroes is a young man who won a Victoria Cross and another who died because he refused to be subject to the Asiatic Registration Act. Enoch Sontonga who wrote our National Anthem lies perhaps a hundred metres from Cornelius Broeksma who was executed for sending out information on the Concentration Camps"
"Westcliff Walk Up the Stairs and Down the Stairs (Saturday 26 June 2010): Winter is the right time to explore the stone stairways of Westcliff and, since most trees will have shed their leaves, we’ll get better views of the houses which disappear in summertime. Westcliff’s range of Twentieth Century architecture is most impressive. Starting with Edwardian eclecticism and a Herbert Baker mansion, the Arts and Crafts Cape Dutch revival, then through the Modern Movement homes of the Thirties and ending with Post Modernism of the Eighties and Nineties. Wonderful views and some very special personalities"
Prices are very reasonable, ranging from R55 for a three hour walk to the more expensive bus tours and catered events. Book via Computicket on www.computicket.co.za (which also publicises the events)
When the main produce market in Johannesburg was relocated from its downtown site, to an industrial suburb where it is better served with modern infrastructure the problem of the beautiful, but run down and neglected Edwardian building it had occupied was solved by a group of performing artists who raised funds to save the building which they planned to convert to a theatre. This was a major exercise and patrons who contributed generously are commemorated in various ways throughout the foyer. Outside the theatre are a number of concrete blocks into which was originally set brass plaques bearing the names of other (later) donors. I “own” one of these blocks and the brass plaque with the inscription of my name was still there last time I looked, despite the fact that most of these plaques have been prised out of their home for the intrinsic resale value of the brass.
Renovation work started with a lot of the work being done by the artists themselves. Most of the original architecture remains, as do a number of the original signs. The theatre opened in 1976 with Barney Simon, one of the artists who pioneered the project, as its artistic director, a position which he held until his death 1995. The Market Theatre has three venues and the upstairs theatre is now named in his honour.
During apartheid the theatre became a focal point for local artists and gained an international reputation as the "Theatre of the Struggle". In the 1980s it was one of the very few places that blacks and whites could mix on equal terms. Athol Fugard, Zakes Mda, Welcome Msomi, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Gibson Kente, Paul Slabolepszy, Mbongeni Ngema, Deon Opperman and James Ngcobo, John Kani and Winston Ntshona are just some of the famous artists associated with the theatre.
Today this theatre has as its slogan “Learn South African, visit the Market Theatre”. It is at the forefront of South African theatre and hosts a large proportion of the new South African productions and revivals of important South African classics. It is a major artistic hub and the original market building now also houses MuseumAfrika which serves not only as a depository of cultural heritage but also as a centre for conferences, workshops and “indabas” or consultations. There is a thriving flea market and the area serves the artistic community in training in the dance, music, theatre and photography. The area is well served with restaurants and I recommend the Gramadoelos, with its African and South African cuisine, to both local and foreign tourists.
This is a feature of contemporary South African theatrical and cultural life which should not be missed and as there are nearly always three productions on the go (although the theatre has an irritating habit of going dark between the runs) one should be able to get tickets for one or another show during the week. On Tuesdays most of the productions have half-price tickets.
Two years and R38-million in the making, the spectacular Nelson Mandela Bridge has emerged as a new landmark for Gauteng province, and holds out the promise of a rejuvenated Johannesburg inner city.
The 284 metre long bridge crosses over 42 operational railway lines in linking Braamfontein and the north of Johannesburg to Newtown in the heart of the city’s central business district.
When I first came to South Africa in 1987, I worked in Anderson Street on the southern fringe of the CBD, which at the time was a slightly grimy but vibrant place. However, even at that time, there were increasing signs that downtown Johannesburg was succumbing to inner city decay and as apartheid began to crumble, so did the CBD. In the years that followed, many companies - including the Johannesburg Securities Exchange - decamped to the leafy northern suburbs of Rosebank and Sandton amid fears about security and difficulty in attracting staff to work in the CBD, and the centre of town spiralled rapidly downwards to become a litterstrewn morasse of lawlessness and squatter-occupied buildings.
To their immense credit, a number of big companies refused to join the exodus and stayed put in the CBD: notably, mining companies such as Anglo American, Anglogold Ashanti and BHP Billiton and Standard Bank. Perhaps the first tangible evidence that things were beginning to turn was that public/private partnerships between government and private companies invested heavily in improving security and service provision. By the turn of the millenium, there was increasing acceptance that the CBD could not just be abandoned and was worthy of urban renewal, and slowly government started to invest in the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure that had been left to decay over the previous couple of decades.
One of the most visible examples of urban renewal is the interesting Newtown precinct on the western edge of the CBD, which includes MuseumAfrica, the Workers Museum, World of Beer, SciBono science centre and Mary Fitzgerald Square. Next door to World of Beer, Bobby Godsell of AngloGold Ashanti took the brave decision not to flee with his peers to the northern suburbs, and instead, committed to redeveloping an old power station into the new corporate headquarters, the award winning Turbine Square development.
On the eastern fringe of Newtown, a couple of affordable and attractive cost housing developments have sprung up (see photo) which provide desperately needed accommodation in close proximity to people's places of work. This is a rare phenomenon in Johannesburg, where most of the low cost housing is in the sprawling townships on the outskirts of the city, a considerable journey away by minibus taxi or train (transport to and from work is one of the major costs to lowly paid workers, both in terms of time and money).
On the other end of the scale, a number of entrepreneurs - notably Batsetsane (Bassie) Khumalo, one of the first Black Miss South Africas, and now a phenomenally successful selfmade businesswoman - are starting to acquire some of the historic buildings in the CBD and redeveloping them into luxury apartment complexes aimed at the BUPPY (upwardly mobile black urban) demographic with considerable success.
I applaud their entrepreneurial spirit and hope that they reap full benefit from their willingness to take risks and invest in an area from which others have simply walked away. Ultimately, this urban renewal benefits all us Johannesburgers, as, after all, who wants to live in a city with a dead heart?
One of the new (since 2003) landmarks of Johannesburg, marking the divide between Braamfontein and the CBD itself, is the Nelson Mandela Bridge.
The 294 metres long bridge spans the Braamfontein Rail Yard and connects Bertha Street in Braamfontein and West Street in Newtown. It has a three-span unsymmetrical cable stays.
Newtown and its development is intended to be the new artistic centre of Johannesburg and includes the Market Theatre, the Dance Factory, the Dance Forum, the home of Moving Into Dance, Kippies Jazz Club, Bassline, MuseuMAfrika amongst other trendy and cultural places. The revitalisation of the area is aimed at cultural rejuvenation, attracting tourists and boosting Gauteng’s economy. Performing and visual artists, both black and white, are finally returning to the inner city, and many of them cross the Nelson Mandela Bridge on their way to and from Newtown.
Nelson Mandela says: "The bridge has a symbolic significance to bridge the gap between people by bringing them into a bustling precinct. I am now encouraged to call upon the international and business world to invest in such projects so as to help create jobs to better the lives of our people."
Two security guards are on duty on the bridge at any time and it is relatively safe if one is in pairs, to stop on the northern (Braamfontein) side of the bridge and to walk across it to take photographs of the skyline.
Paris has its Eiffel Tower, New York its Statue of Liberty, Sydney its Harbour Bridge. On 20 July, Johannesburg opened the largest cable-stayed bridge in southern Africa. Who else to name it after but Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa across the apartheid divide?
This statue - officially known as The Stampede - has been part of my life for the best part of twenty years, and I love it as much - or even more - now then when I first caught sight of it all those years ago.
This beautiful bronze fountain is located outside Anglo American's offices at 45 Main Street, where I worked for a number of years. It is executed in a distinctly Art Deco style and depicts a herd of seventeen impala leaping in an elegant arc spanning 8.5m. The sense of grace and movement is quite extraordinary, and this ranks among my favourite sculptures in the world.
The artist was Herman Wald, who had this to say about his inspiration:
"The Stampede was my first impression in this country, nature’s most graceful charge that competes with any man-made efforts, unconditionally acclaimed by child or adult, by amateur or connoisseur, unbound by time, fashion or ‘isms’." (H.Wald)
The statue was commissioned by the much loved mining magnate Sir Harry Oppenheimer as a gift to the City of Johannesburg to commemorate his equally titanic father, Sir Ernest, and was unveiled in the Oppenheimer Gardens in 1960. Sadly, in the late 90s, it was stolen by thieves seeking to sell it for its scrap metal value, and after restoration by the artist's son, was moved to its more secure present location in 2002.
This westernmost section of Main Street is now a pedestrian precinct which has undergone significant gentrification in recent years These days, the Angloids can eat their lunches on a shady terrace overlooking the fountain and it's all very genteel - a far cry from its more grimy appearance in the late 1990s when I had a car stolen from almost this exact spot (at that time, the statue stood over the road outside Anglo's Head Office at 44 Main Street)!
Who'd have thought that something so beautiful would be lurking in the much maligned downtown of Big, Bad Johannesburg!
If you like this work as much as I do, then you will probably also love Wald's other major commission for the Oppenheimer family, the amazing Diamond Diggers Memorial in Kimberley. Wald (who was himself a Hungarian Jewish emigre) was also responsible for the Monument to the Martyred European Jewry (colloquially known as the Six Million Memorial) in West Park cemetery, next to which he is buried.
The Anglo American mining company (more commonly known as 'mining houses' in South Africa) is a huge multinational organisation, and, unsurprisingly, has long since outgrown its original corporate accommodation at 44 and 45 Main Street.
About a decade ago, its subsidiary Anglo Platinum, erected a head office close by at 55 Marshall Street, with a 'skybridge' to Anglo's head office at 44 Main Street. The challenge here was to mesh the imposing monumental architecture of the old Anglo buildings with something more contemporary, and I think that the result was a triumph.
I must say that I'm also pretty proud of this photo, which makes it look particularly attractive!
The CBDs of South Africa's cities were extensively remodelled during the 1960s and 70s, and the blight of hideous concrete structures is unfortunately an enduring legacy of that period.
As evidence, I offer 20 Anderson Street, a building with zero redeeming architectural features which has particular significance for me, as I worked on its 17th floor for my first two and a half years in Johannesburg. And yet when I visited this area for the first time in about a year, I noted encouraging signs of urban renewal, with the neighbouring buildings being progressively converted into upmarket inner city apartments, and a very snazzy cafe on the opposite corner.
Anderson Street is the southernmost street in the Johannesburg CBD that has highrise development: to the south, development is exclusively low rise, and the break between the two is dramatic and easily visible from both the M1 and M2 highways as you drive past the CBD. There is a very good reason for this: further south, the historical underground mine workings extend too close to surface to allow the construction of foundations capable of supporting tall buildings, and this is one of the very few planning restrictions that has been strictly enforced throughout Johannesburg's history. In fact, the workings come so close to surface beneath in the nearby Standard Bank building one block eastwards that it is possible to look directly into the old mine stopes from a section of the basement!
Coincidentally, this is another building in which I used to work in the early 2000s when it housed Anglogold (which has since relocated to purpose-built headquarters in the very different but equally interesting Turbine Square building).
11 Diagonal is perhaps Johannesburg's most instantly recognisable building, designed by architect Helmut Jahn to echo the shape of a diamond crystal, with distinctive stripey mirrored surfaces. It is located on the western margin of the CBD and faces onto Diagonal Street, which was the home of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, until it relocated to Sandton around the turn of the millenium.
Beautiful though this building may be from the outside, like many buildings celebrated by architects, it has a very impractical design. Much hated by window cleaning crews, the unconventional angles of the building also make the effective sealing of joints between the planes very difficult, and I remember being able to put my finger between a gap in the windows in my husband's office!
One of Johannesburg's most successful initiatives of the last few years has been the sponsorship of municipal art as part of the regeneration of the CBD.
Perhaps the most visible of these artworks is the amazing 'Firewalker' statue, which is located at the southern edge of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, just by the recently revamped taxi rank on the northern edge of the CBD.
This is the result of a collaboration between by William Kentridge (probably Johannesburg's most celebrated living artist) and Gerhard Marx. It depicts an African lady carrying her brazier on her head, with which she will set up a fast food stall on the pavement. These sell everything from grilled mealies (corn on the cob) to 'smileys' (sheeps heads), and are a characteristic feature of the Jo'burg CBD.
She's a big lass - 10m high - and is constructed of three offset layers of steel sheeting. The full image is only visible when the three layers align, so she only 'comes together' if you look at her straight on, which can be bamboozling at first glance (and probably mind altering if you're hung over).
Just a word of warning: she is only visible if you are travelling south over the Queen Elizabeth bridge, and there is nowhere along this section to stop (unless you're in a traffic jam). I tried to work my way back around through the adjacent side streets to find somewhere to park so that I could walk back and take my photo, but inadvertently found myself in one of the newly established Rea Vaya bus lanes. I was promptly hauled over by the Metro police and narrowly avoided a very steep R1000 fine which would have made this by far and away the most expensive photo I'd ever taken!
Not a very good photo, I'll happily concede, but during the apartheid era, this is closer than most sane people would have been comfortable getting to John Vorster Square.
John Vorster Square was the police headquarters in Johannesburg, and was notorious for the numerous atrocities that were committed there during the apartheid era. It functioned as a detention centre mostly for political activists, who were not allowed to have any contact with family members, lawyers or any outside assistance, and could remain in detention for anything between a few hours and a few months.
The 10th floor of Jan Vorster Square was the terrifying domain of the Security Branch, and it was here that political internees were routinely tortured. Many met improbable deaths due to accidental falls out of windows (despite them being barred) or freak injuries resulting from them slipping on the soap in showers ... or so the death certificates attest ... in all, over 70 political activists met their deaths here.
This infamous building is named after Balthazar Johannes (John) Vorster, former Prime Minister and State President of South Africa in the late 60s and 70s. To take a charitable view on things, Vorster was perhaps less hardline than his predecessors and went some way towards dismantling some of the more extreme legislation of grand apartheid. He was even described as "flesh and blood" by the formidable Progressive Front MP Helen Suzman (who served as the only opposition MP in parliament for over a decade) in contrast to the "diabolical" and "frightening" H.F Verwoerd - faint praise indeed!
These days, this facility is officially known as Johannesburg Central Prison.
Oh my, was this an eyeopener on the rarified world of contemporary art!
I have been meaning to visit the Standard Bank Gallery forever, but only managed to get there this morning when other plans fell through and my friend and I found ourselves in the Jo'burg CBD too late to connect with a tour we'd intended to do. Since we were already there, it seemed a heavenset opportunity to tick off the two 'touristy' things that I've wanted to do in the Standard bank complex: the art gallery and the Mineshaft Museum.
The Standard Bank gallery is located on the northern corner of Standard Bank City complex, on the southern perimeter of the Johannesburg CBD. It is a small gallery which hosts short term temporary exhibits, and admission is free.
When we visited, there were two exhibits: an inspirational photographic study on women living with HIV/AIDS and a bewildering display of petrified impractical clothing fashioned from Nguni (native cattle) hide suspended in mid air. The relevance of the latter in the greater scheme of things was quite beyond us and the equally inexplicable video of the (female) artist clad in matador garb and fighting an imaginary bull in a deserted bull ring was the final straw that reduced us to fits of girly giggles. By the time we reached the exit and were gravely presented by the security guard with an expensive bound book of the artist's work AND been offered free posters of the artwork as well, we were almost hysterical with laughter (and exited as quickly as possible lest he offered us a piece of the artwork to take home as well ...)
Well, each to their own, as they say, and having previously waxed evangelically about an entire exhibition of folk art forged out of gingerbread in Tallinn, I suppose I shouldn't be criticising other people's original take on art. All I can say is that it's an absolute pleasure to be able to visit an art gallery in Jo'burg in the first place (especially when it's free), and as the exhibits are temporary, by the time you visit, the material on offer may be more to your taste than this one was to mine ...
From a tourist's point of view, this is conveniently located only two blocks south of the recently gentrified Main Street precinct with its rich mining heritage, including the BHP Billiton building and the Hollard Street mall, the Mapungubwe rhino, Anglo American buildings at 44 Main and 45 Main, the impala fountain and the mine headframe.
I am at the end of a week visiting Joburg for an event in Sandton. I came early to see the city. Joburg is a big city with poverty and wealth. I live in London, so I know how to be careful. Camera in an old plastic bag, money in an inside pocket and not too much, sensible stuff good for any city. In Sandton no one wants you to go downtown and no one wants you to get in shared taxi. Rich South Africa benefits from the 'danger' label. Ignore it, just take normal reasonable precautions. Go to the shared taxi stand down the ramp from the back of Sandton Library. The taxi nearest to being full is probably going downtown, but check anyway. It will leave when full. Pass your 10 rand up the taxi and any change will come back to you. Some of the taxis are a bit old, but some brand new and they were never over filled. Get off at the end of the ride outside Joubert park. It's a very lively Market area, so take it in and take care. Walk round the city side of the park and go into the art gallery. There's a Dali lobster telephone inside, plus excellent SA artist's work. The cafe upstairs is just great. Walk over to the new constitutional court area. This is a beautiful new precinct, weaving the new top court of SA with the apartheid regimes separate prisons for women and White and black men. The combination of old and new is superb. Then down through Braamfontien across the Nelson Mandela bridge, into the beautiful Newtown area, which other have detailed. Like any city, make your way back before dusk, just go and enjoy.