Just like in any other city in any other country, people love to shop and love doing it in a large "mall" with plenty of options for shopping.
Sandton City is considered an "upscale" shopping center with every single desinger store you can think of. There are plenty of department stores, children stores, electronic shops, shoes, accesories, home and health good stores as well as plenty of places to eat.
I spent quite a bit of time doing some shopping here. I purchased a few tops at Zara, a pair of shoes, a shirt for my honey, a memory card for my camera and some other items to take back home.
The mall is huge and you can possibly spend the whole day here wandering in and out of the many shops.
If you are in the area and need to do some shopping this is an excellent place to find just about anything you could want or need.
As an early taste of the new Johannesburg, spend some time in the Central Business District, or Newtown. Under apartheid, the Central Business District (CBD) was a whites-only residential area. When apartheid was repealed, the demographics shifted drastically, ultimately leading to high crime rates. Although still a work in progress, Johannesburg's CBD is bouncing back with improved security, new transportation systems and restored heritage attractions. Snap a picture of the Carlton Centre skyscraper (Please!!! I could not get far enough away to get a comprehensive shot but we did have some interesting adventures there while we were waiting on an appointment which never took place.) The Carlton Place Skyscraper is the tallest building in Africa, or you can get inspired in slightly more traditional Newtown, where vibrant street art covers nearly every wall.
And, do not miss the architecturally remarkable Nelson Mandela Bridge.Related to:
- Family Travel
Braamfontein- & Univeristy of Witwatersrand
for too many years, a poor academic student at Wits U, but i sure received a fine all round education, not just a Diploma for geeks.
Walk Around the Old Campus and New West Campus, that used to be the Rand Show Grounds.
Lawson Corner - Shell Garage / Gas Station, the Fountain corner of Jan Smuts and Ameshoff.
Pops for lunch and suppers at under R1-00 back in the sixties, R1-25 dinners and Zambesi Cafe
on Stiemans st opposite the Alexander Theatre.
Anybody remember Wally and Patsy(?) at the La Chakasa now the Bookshop, their Herb Soup was out of this world. The Canteen was the WWII Barracks above the swimming Pool. The there was Dalrymple House where i spent 2 years, even meeting up with "Phineas" in his tartan in the College House Boiler Room, that;s where supper was served.
Woemn's Res was somewhat above board for me, the days of Aprtheid created strange glass walls between the different tribes ;-)
In our academic gowns, we braved the cameras of "you know Who' and smiled at the friendly toots of the horn and thumbs up of passing traffic when we stood with banners and candles, protesting against the in-equalities and continuous harsher legislation by then John Vorster and henchman. Should any Witsie from the early 60's, read this blurb / geselletjies, drop me a line and let's share.
Jacarandas in full bloom and i had not begun my revisions, of course it was too late.
The Wooden Huts from Central Block to Swimming pool where the annual Groot Brag was held, was where the Choral Society rehearsed for the Gypsy Baron. Great Hall was the Non Racial Venue for "King Kong Musical"
Phillip Vallentine Tobias FRS (14 October 1925 – 7 June 2012): the Anatomist, anthropologist,
should he have received a Nobel Prize for his studies, and the Origins centre on West Campus where Prod Tobias ,new Prof Lee Berger and others have left their mark
John Moffat building where i hung out with Pretorius, Poplack Julian Beinhardt and a few others who i'd forgotten. The fine arts dept were there too, Heather Marthinussen, Penny Simpson, Dawn Silver and ? ? ?Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Retail therapy at the Rosebank Rooftop Market
One of the parking levels at the Rosebank Mall (part of the Rosebank pedestrian precinct) is converted into a market every Sunday morning from about 09:00 on - much nicer than the setting might suggest! This has become somewhat of an institution for locals and tourists alike, and there are now a couple of hundred stalls selling food, crafts/curios and the usual flea market fare. I believe that the proof of a good flea market is whether locals frequent it, and in this case, the majority of customers are Johannesburgers looking for something slightly out of the ordinary.
Bear in mind that there are craftsmen from all over sub-Saharan African represented at this market - this shouldn't deter you, but I suggest that you ask where it comes from just so that you understand its background and significance (most craftsmen will be delighted to explain the context to their work). Outstanding wood carving is likely to be Malawian, and the bulk of the better quality stone carving is Zimbabwean. Bronze sculptures and dark wood masks are likely to be from West Africa.
The quality of goods is generally excellent (though, like any market, there is some imported crap from the far East), and the prices are negotiable. By all means bargain, but please just be reasonable, as I find it is offensive to see pennypinching tourists trying to batter vendors into submission over a couple of rand even though they've been offered a 'special price' well below the opening value (my personal take on the issue is that expecting a discount of more than 40-50% below the opening price is unrealistic). Usually you have a stronger bargaining position if you are buying more than one item (in which case, jocularly ask for a "discount on volume").
Bear in mind that many countries (Australia being a particular case in point) are very strict about the import of animal-based goods: this includes food (including biltong - even if, in my very subjective opinion it looks and tastes like salty shoe leather, although my kids love it in their lunch boxes!) and curios made out of wood, animal hides, feathers, ostrich egg or horn/warthog ivory. The local beadwork is a particularly good buy for people concerned about their luggage allowance as it is very light - look for quirky items such as beaded Christmas tree decorations and beaded bracelets made of safety pins.
In addition to the excellent specialist food section (which is ideal for snacking as you browse), there are many conventional shops in the Mall itself which are open on Sundays, as well a plethora of restaurants to which you can retire to with your loot once you've shopped until you drop (see my restaurant tips on Cranks and Anat)!
Update (September 2013): Due to a ridiculously counterproductive tiff between the Rosebank Mall management and the company that coordinates the flea market, both sides have managed to settle on a lose/lose solution and have cut off their noses to spite their respective faces. As a result, the Flea Market is no longer held in Rosebank, and as of the beginning of September 2013, has relocated to the deeply suburban and rather unlovely Norwood Mall. A ridiculous outcome that isn't to anyone's benefit, and is a disservice to both local and out of town tourists. If you'd still like to go, then you'll need to arrange a taxi (ask to be taken to the Norwood Pick'n'Pay, which is only a 10 minute drive from Rosebank or Sandton).Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Jo'burg's all but forgotten Holocaust Memorial
I didn't even know that Johannesburg had a Holocaust memorial until I started to research one of my favourite sculptures - the exquisite Stampede in Newtown - that I even came across reference to it.
The statue is by Herman Wald - a Hungarian Jewish emigre - and is officially known as the Monument to the Martyred European Jewry (colloquially referred to as the 'Six Million Memorial'). It is hidden away in the Jewish section of West Park cemetery, and is frankly difficult to find unless you realise that this section of the cemetery is located on the far north western extremity of the cemetery and has a different entrance.
I am a huge fan of Wald's work, but I simply don't know what to think about this one. In fact, when I first saw this, I simply couldn't believe that it was by the same artist: whereas both The Stampede and his Diamond Diggers' Memorial fountain in Kimberley are naturalistic, this sculpture is deeply symbolic. As I don't have a Jewish background, I fear that most of the imagery is lost on me, but it doesn't stop me appreciating it as a powerful reflection on his cultural frame of reference and the devastating effect that the Holocaust had on his community.
From Johannesburg's initial origins as a mining camp, it has had very influential Jewish population, drawn initially from Britain and (to a lesser degree, Central Europe). Thereafter, the vast majority of Jewish migrants came from Lithuania, bolstered by a major influx of German Jews in the 1930s, fleeing persecution under the Nazi regime.
Jewish entrepreneurs such as Barney Barnato and Solly Joel were instrumental in establishing several of the early mining houses, and the Oppenheimer family (who were of Jewish stock, although they became Christian converts) was later responsible for the creation of the Anglo American/De Beers family of companies that are still such a powerful force in the international mining industry a century later. As you might expect, the Jewish community is also strongly represented in the legal, medical and financial professions.
People from outside South Africa may be surprised to learn that Jewish figures also featured very prominently in politics, especially in opposing the political and social oppression brought about by the apartheid regime. Perhaps the most notable of these was the formidable Jewish matron Helen Suzman - one of my personal heroines - who was the only opposition member of Parliament for over a decade at the height of Grand Apartheid, and is buried in this same section of cemetery.
The South African Jewish population reached its peak in 1970 (numbering a surprisingly small 118,000, considering its visibility and influence), and since then, has steadily declined, largely due to emigration to cities such as London, Toronto and Sydney. Today, the Jewish Board of Deputies estimates that Johannesburg's Jewish population numbers about 50,000 - about two thirds of South Africa's entire Jewish population.
At the time of writing (August 2013), construction has finally started on the long discussed Holocaust Museum on Jan Smuts Avenue, which will presumably document this tragic passage of history - and South Africa's links to it - in greater detail.
An unusual perspective on Braamfontein
From the grounds of the NHK in Cottesloe, you can get an unusual perspective on the Johannebsurg CBD looking east.
In the foreground is the West Campus of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), with a backdrop of the 60s concrete office blocks of Braamfontein and the Hillbrow Tower on the horizon.
If you turn slightly to your left (looking to the north east), you'll see the Old Gas Works, with the trendy 44 Stanley design precinct behind.
The Old Gas Works in Milpark
The Old Gas Works in Milpark is probably the most visible piece of industrial architecture in the Johannesburg CBD area.
The works were constructed in 1937 to convert coal to gas, and comprise three gasometers (circular gas storage towers) and a distinctive red brick complex of buildings. The redevelopment potential of this site has long been recognised but has not been possible until recently, as remediation of the soil due to the dumping of the tar byproduct created during gas generation first needed to be completed. Plans are now afoot to develop the site into an upmarket mixed use complex, incorporating loft style apartments, shops and restaurants that are compatible with the neighbouring trendy 44 Stanley design precinct and adjacent film studios,
These days, natural gas is piped in from Mozambique and distributed by the rebranded Egoli Gas (Egoli means 'place of gold'). Connections to its frustratingly limited inner suburb network are highly sought after as an alternative domestic fuel option to the increasingly temperemental Eskom (colloquially known as 'Eishkom', based on an Afrikaans expression of frustration) electrical grid power supply.
The Brixton TV tower
The Johannesburg skyline is dominated by not one, but two communications towers: the iconic Hillbrow Tower and the Brixton Tower, which evokes much less interest and precious little affection.
The Brixton Tower is located in an inner western suburb close to the headquarters of the South African Broadcasting Company. Sometimes known as the Sentech Tower, it's an unlovely structure with no obvious redeeming features that i can identify. It was opened in 1961 (at which point it was known as the Albert Herzog tower) and, at 237m high, was at that time the highest building in Africa, until it was overtaken by the Hillbrow Tower in 1971
It does have a viewing platform at the top, which might have redeemed it in terms of touristic value, but this has been shut since 1982, when the fear of this communication facility being bombed by anti-apartheid insurgents was deemed too great.
Without wishing to be too harsh, its major value to tourists is probably as a navigational check to orient yourself when you're in the CBD: the Brixton Tower it to the west, whereas the Hillbrow Tower is to the east.
West Park Cemetery: cultural diversity in death
My love of cemeteries - and the intriguing perspective that they give you on a society and its component cultures - is well documented, but for some reason it took me nearly 25 years of driving past the gate regularly to venture into West Park Cemetery.
When I finally did visit, I came for a specific purpose: to find the Holocaust Memorial which I'd stumbled across reference to in researching another tip. Unfortunately this memorial is so far off the beaten tourist trail that I ended up driving around the main cemetery for about half an hour before it occurred to me that there must be a separate Jewish section (which - as it turns out - is accessed via a separate entrance). But as so often happens when you're lost, this turned out to be an unexpected benefit as it gave me an opportunity to experience the rest of the cemetery, with its varied funereal monuments and excellent birdlife.
I suppose that most countries that have an ethnically diverse population must compartmentalise their cemeteries on the base of religious belief. However, when you're in a country that has institutionalised racial segregation for so many years, and where racial issues are still hugely divisive, you are particularly sensitive to such issues. The different sections of the cemetery are reflective of those individual cultures and range from the relative austerity of the NGK (Ned Gerefoormerde Kerk - or Dutch Reformed Church) to the Portuguese-dominated Catholic section (pictured above) which fairly bristles with statuary of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The cemetery is located on the western side of Beyers Naude Avenue, about 2km north of Melville. The site abuts the Westcliff Ridge, and is also directly across the road from Emmarentia Dam and Botanical Gardens - one of Johannesburg's largest open areas. As a result, it serves as a refuge for wildlife in the heart of suburbia, and during my visit, I was delighted to have the opportunity to see a family of dikkop (thick kneed stone curlew) moving furtively between the headstones.
Funerals have particular cultural significance in black African society, and are generally large and lavish affairs, even for families of modest means: in fact, funeral insurance to cover such events is by far and away the most commonly held type of insurance policy in South Africa. On the day that I visited, there was a huge funeral underway, which was attended by literally hundreds of people. It was a hot and humid lunch time, building up to a typical Highveld summer thunder storm, and ice cream vendors were plying a brisk trade in bottled water and ice lollies among the mourners.
The NHK church at Cottesloe
I spent five years looking at this church many times a day (as I could see it from my office) and it often occurred to me that I should perhaps go and have a closer look.
When I eventually made the effort over a lunch time when I was in the area, it was more difficult to find than I had anticipated. Sitting on a ridge overlooking Braamfontein, it's easy to pick out, but making your way there through the tangle of little streets in the densely built old suburb of Vrededorp/Cottesloe is more difficult than it seems.
The church - officially the Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk (NHK) - is a lovely structure, and is the work of the renowned architect Gerard Moerdyk, who is perhaps the best known of Afrikaaner architects and a pioneer in developing a specifically South African style of architecture. It was built in 1935 and incorporates elements of Cape Dutch architecture - including the distinctive gable - and is vastly different to his best known work, the Voortrekker Monument.
As far as I can ascertain, this is close to the hostel where the infamous Cottesloe Consultation took place in 1960, at which the eight member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in South engaged on the issue of the Sharpeville Massacre, which had taken place on 21 March that year, killing 69 people. The consultation's findings were damning, and resulted in 17 recommendations, including the following which struck at the core of the apartheid system:
"… We recognise that all racial groups who permanently inhabit our country are a
part of our total population, and we regard them as indigenous …
• No-one who believes in Jesus Christ may be excluded from any church on the
grounds of his colour or race …
• There are no Scriptural grounds for the prohibition of mixed marriages …
• We call attention to the disintegrating effects of migrant labour on African life …
• It is our conviction that the right to own land wherever he is domiciled, and to
participate in the government of his country, is part of the dignity of the adult man ...
• It is our conviction that there can be no objection in principle to the direct
representation of Coloured people in Parliament ..." (WCC 1960:30–32; Hewson
1961:74 & 75).
The Afrikaaner establishment - including President H.F. Verwoerd, the infamous architect of Grand Apartheid, were predictably appalled by this criticism that hit at the heart of the apartheid world view and accused the WCC of meddling in South Africa's internal affairs. In an act of solidarity, the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) and NHK withdrew from WCC, marking one of South Africa's first steps into the political and cultural isolation that lasted until the transition to democracy in the early 1990s.
We took the Red Bus Hop on and hop off City tour and were very happy. It cost us ZAR 120/person since we booked online. It took us to various stops and we were free to get off at any point which we found interesting. We got off at Gold Reef city and in the CBD area, but more than the stops itself, we enjoyed the detailed commentary that was given through headphones handed to us. There are English, French, Spanish and Italian guided versions too. The Red hop on and hop off bus starts at Guatrain area but you could get on at any of their points. You need to show your valid ticket to the driver each time you get on. The buses come by in a gap of 45 minutes to each stop which gives you ample time to look at the spot. Of course in museums you might need more time. We did not visit the museums since we feel very sad about apartheid and did not think we could handle all the sad details. But for those interested the Apartheid museum would be quite informative.
Cradle of Humankind
One can spend a lifetime exploring South Africa. It is the place of great beauty and nature. There are thousands of things one can choose to do when down there, depending on what pleases you, there are alternative activities through this extra-ordinary country. Africa is the birthplace of humankind and the birthplace of earliest civilization and technology. Archeological, scientific and anthropology findings have long since found undisputed evidence that humankind began in Africa; at the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa.
I recommend visiting the 'Cradle of Humankind' located in the ancient limestone caves. It was designated a UNESCO Heritage site for it's cultural significance in 1999. The cradle is home to hominid fossils estimated to be more than three and a half million years old. The 47,000 acres of land has a rich history that only the ancient fossils can tell.
Getting to Gauteng is easy, it is only 50 kilometers from Johannesburg. Many travel companies provide day tours to and from.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Welgevonden Game Reserve in Limpopo
Located Northwest of Johannesburg, it's about a 3 1/2 hours drive. Some of the game reserves are more like 6 hours of driving one way. This is a private reserve not accessible by the general public. You must stay at one of the 30 or so lodges/time shares. There are guards at the gates. We stayed at the Nedile Lodge which was absolutely wonderful. See my tip on accomodations for more information.
Game drives were about 3 1/2 hours long, two a day. First drive was at 5:30am and the afternoon drive was at 4:00pm. These are the times the animals are most active.
We saw lions, zebras, giraffe, rhinos, wildebeast, antelopes, kudus, elands, jackals, warthogs, elephants, cheetah, water bucks to name a few. The reserve also has hippos and leopards but we did not see them.
This was such a wonderful experience. We got extremely close to the animals. Make sure to check out my travelogues for more pics.Related to:
- Luxury Travel
Welcome to Jo'burg's brand new art museum!
Jo'burg is not a city that you automatically associate with art museums, so the brand new Wits Art Museum (WAM) which opened its doors in May 2012 is a very welcome - and accessible - addition to the cultural landscape.
The museum has been funded by private donation to house the extensive fine art collection accumulated by the University of the Witwatersrand and is located on a corner of its Braamfontein campus. The space has been created by demolishing what used to be a petrol station, and the resulting three storey structure is a well designed and versatile exhibition space.
I popped in here when I had a few minutes to spare on my way to a seminar, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The inaugual exhibit is pleasantly eclectic and bodes well for the future, with a well chosen mix of 'fine art' and traditional crafts sourced from across Africa.
High points on the art front include several pieces by South Africa's most famous living artist, William Kentridge (also responsible for the beautiful statue, 'The Firewalker' which is located close by on the Queen Elizabeth II bridge) and a painting by Irma Stern (whose works have been attracting extraordinary prices on the international markets of late). A visible effort has been made to ensure that all major art media are represented, from paintings and etchings through photography to sculpture.
There is also a well chosen collection of traditional art, from woven Zulu beer baskets to carved Swazi headrests, Malian masks, Ndebele beadwork and Zambian clay pipes.
There is no admission fee, but donations are encouraged.
The museum is fairly small, so unless you're a serious patron of the arts - or attending a viewing with glass in hand - you'll probably be finished in an hour.
The only downside is that parking in the surrounding area is very limited - and even more precious on the adjacent university campus, so unfortunately I cannot suggest any easy alternatives.
China Town in Cyrildene: Jo'burg's new Far East
When I first moved to Jo'burg in the lates 80's, the Chinese community was clustered on the western fringe of the CBD, close to the notorious John Vorster Square police headquarters.
In recent years, the focus of the Chinese community has shifted (appropriately) eastwards to the former Jewish suburb of Cyrildene, close to the Eastgate shopping centre and en route for the airport. These days, Derrick Avenue is lined with a bewildering array of shops, supermarkets and other service providers to the Chinese - and broader South East Asian - market and wandering along there is like stepping into a completely different world.
The original Chinese population migrated to South Africa in the 1880s in response to the Gold Rush on the Witwatersrand - as they did elsewhere over the same period to the Klondike in the U.S. and the Australian Goldfields around Bendigo and Ballarat. Most came as 'coolies' or indentured labourers, whose passage was paid for them, and who progressively paid off their debt until they were able to pay for the return passage (hopefully with some sort of accrued net egg in their pocket).
Although it may sound like a cliché - and, after all, clichés have to start somewhere - a large number of Chinese were deployed in providing laundry services to mine workers and the households of the Rand Lords who grew rich on the almost unimaginable riches generated by a gold rush that came and (unlike almost nowhere else) did not abate for another century.
Under apartheid, the status of the Chinese population was ambiguous, as they were not 'White' nor fell into any of the other three racial classifications "('Black', 'Coloured' or 'Indian'). In practicality, they were treated as 'honorary whites' - a term that was sometimes used in an official sense - and were pretty much left to their own devices, usually as traders and service providers to the non white population. In the post-apartheid South Africa, this has lead to a fascinating dynamic, whereby certain Chinese business interest groups have lobbied strongly to have Chinese retrospectively recognised as being 'non white' in order to position the Chinese community for the preferential business status afforded to the 'historically disadvantaged' in terms of South Africa's legislation aimed at redressing economic inequalities between the race groups.
Today's Chinese South African population have two distinctly different heritages: those whose ancestry dates back to the Gold Rush days and more recent emigrés, many of whom come from Hong Kong.
The best and most expensive hotel of the area. Directly in the Sandton shopping Mall. The smallest...more
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