Being a tourist again in my own city of Jozi – Part 1

UPDATED JUNE 2023 

Welcome back Jozi explorers 

It goes without saying that the last two years have been tough – tougher for some than others. There are so many passionate dedicated people who proudly navigate Jozi leading tours for both locals and internationals – Jozi in all its vagaries, grit and harshness as well as its vibrancy and frenetic intensity. And for the last two years their businesses have been on hold with those few exceptions who have been able to tour Jozi on-line.  Looking back on a blog written in 2013 about the available tours, I realized just how the industry has grown, grown to the extent that there are too many Jozi explorers to write about in one post. Hence the Part 1. 

Charlie Moyo (with Gerald Garner) of Local Places (what used to be Joburg Places but has changed names since Gerald moved to Cape Town

One of the pioneers of exploring Jozi on foot was Gerald Garner of Joburg Places.  Gerald went  through many iterations (both in terms of business ventures: 1 Fox St ; Joziburg Lane; no 1 Eloff St; Thunderwalker in Somerset House on Gandhi Square;  Charlie & Gerald’s Town Treasure at Zwipi Underground (the old bank vault in Somerset House) and in terms of Jozi’s decline, resurgence and subsequent dip.  A passionate campaigner for inner city revival and urban rather than suburban living, Gerald and his business partner Charlie Moyo have warriored their way through two dreadful years of heavy Covid Lockdown restrictions.  

Joburg Places (now Local Places) continues with half day inner city walking tours.   Half-day tours are available from 9am-1pm or 2pm-6pm.  They recommed combining tours eg 

Astonishing Marshalltown + East Town is Alive
Newtown Never Died + Buoyant Central Spine
Buoyant Central Spine + Fashion District & Little Addis
Bristling Braamfontein + Constitution Hill

For bookings via e-mail: gerald@localplaces.co.za  or whatsapp + 27 (0)82 894 5216.

Several years ago I joined Gerald’s Fashion District and Little Addis Tour. After a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony on a balcony in Little Addis (Medical Arts Building 220 Jeppe Street) we moved through the Joburg Mall – bustling with Saturday morning shoppers.
Join Local Places tour ViewPoints and Watering Holes for a visit to Hallmark House one of Jozi inner city rooftop bars with swimming pools

Story telling dinners are still being held: the Migrant Cuisine Storytelling Dinner; the 7-Phases of Joburg Storytelling Dinner; or Money, Banks and Stocks.  To make a booking for any of these events, send an email to gerald@joburgplaces.com or whatsapp to 082 894 5216. 

The previous venue was Town Treasure at Gandhi Square.  Walking past safety deposit boxes, through massive security doors into this amazing underground bank vault space is a special experience.  Now the dinners have moved to the JSE in Newtown (the iconic erstwhile stock exchange building).

Johannesburg Heritage Foundation 

Johannesburg Heritage is another excellent resource for locals and tourists alike. From the hey day of 1960’s Nationalist reinvention of Johannesburg in terms of a new “progressive modernity”, which also entailed the eradication of the old English colonial symbols and markers, there was a deliberate political and ideological agenda in the wholesale destruction of the large Randlord houses on the Parktown Westcliff ridge. The Parktown Westcliff Trust started in 1985 as a voluntary organization  to protest this trend and attempt to save some of this valuable historical heritage.  By the early 2000s it had extended its heritage work much more widely and, in 2012, was renamed the  Johannesburg Heritage Foundation. It is run by an amazing group of volunteers with an increasing number of younger tour guides.  In addition to their tours, the Foundation promotes research and publishing, restoration guidance, and raising of public awareness about heritage through the Blue Plaques programme. It was in this context that I spent a fascinating afternoon in Dube Soweto when 6 blue plaques were unveiled in 2019. 

Mlangeni unveiling the Blue Plaque outside his house. 2nd February 2019

Another special afternoon was spent at Victoria Yards in Lorentzville. Victoria Yards is an exciting creative and integrated inner city development which includes artist studios; urban farming; retails shops and stalls; apprenticeship programmes to encourage entrepreneurship and skills development; eateries; and a monthly Sunday market.  It positions itself as being as much about social development as it is commercial enterprise.  What was special about the Johannesburg Heritage tour is that it was lead by the prime mover behind the project: Brian Green of 44 Stanley fame. 

James Delaney‘s studio at Victoria Yards

While a place like Victoria Yards is obviously completely accessible without joining a tour, other excursions are packaged in a way that allow access to a range of places which would be challenging to manage as an individual.  Once such was the Cathedrals of Industry tour where Kathy Munro (Jozi historian) and David Gurney (urban planner) led a bus tour taking us to various industrial heritage buildings. We were honoured to have with us the ultimate guru of Johannesburg architecture, Clive Chipkin whose Johannesburg Style is the go-to for all researchers working on Johannesburg building styles. 

Lion Match Factory (later Ullman Warehouse) in Industria. Clive Chipkin spoke directly about this building mentioning the references to classical architecture with vestiges of capitals on columns. When somebody pointed out the capitals were reminiscent of stylized matches he was completely delighted as he had never made this connection before.  So even Clive could learn something from a Johannesburg Heritage tour!!   Built in 1936, Johannesburg’s jubilee year, this building was one of Joburg’s principle attractions with sightseers coming to see the factory lit up at night.

During Lockdown Joburg Heritage ran an amazing series of virtual tours. Brian Mckechnie and Claire Eisenstein presented a fascinating history of Art Deco as a movement with its sources and influences and showed a range of examples of Johannesburg’s Art Deco buildings.

A postcard of Anstey’s Building. The curved horizontals in the lower levels recall the sleek curves of 1930’s automobiles and the stepped cubic forms and canopies speak of the ocean liner aesthetic (as does the ubiquitous 1930’s flagpole)

The upcoming Johannesburg Heritage tours see their website

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Being a tourist again in my own city of Jozi – Part 1

  1. I just love been a tourist in my own city, it evolves, public art changes as do the people. Never a dull moment.

  2. Liz thank you – you continue to open many doors of inspiration for me. Its very kind of you to share these special places to visit.

  3. Dear Liz—Bev has forwarded this to me. Thank you for your passion and knowledge.
    It is inspirational to see this and gives hope. Our son from London went on a tour of Sophiatown in January–spent 1 hour with an elderly woman who was a child when the bulldosers came in. Hope for good times ahead. Lyn Bath xx

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