Had a busy couple of weeks doing bus/walking/self-guided tours of various parts of this amazing and confusing city.
Most of the time we were accompanied by a new Canuck colleague, Karen Hemmingson from BC Housing. Karen is spending 3 months as a Rooftops volunteer doing various pieces of work for NASHO.
We managed to snag the cottage right beside ours, in Ruby’s backyard. So Karen is our neighbour as well and we can share dinners as well as power outages, rides to work and nice rosés. Malcolm, the ED of NASHO, thinks there’s a conspiracy to have Canadians take over the SA social housing sector!
Hop on/Hop off bus tour:
On a perfect Joburg day, Sunday the 11th, we found parking at the train station and took the tourist bus around town. It gave Debbie and Karen an idea of how spread out the city is and stopped at some of the well known destinations like the Casino (évidemment), the Apartheid Museum, the Transportation Museum (who knew?), the Carlton Centre (tallest building in Africa when it was built), etc. We only got off in Newtown to spend an hour looking at an amazing photo exhibit from the struggle period (Rise and Fall of Apartheid) at the Museum Africa.
Special “turista” week
On the evening of that perfect day, Catherine succumbed to what turned out to be a rotavirus. After three days of staying very close to the bathroom and not doing much else, some chicken soup revived her and the nasty bug went away without affecting anyone else. There are no pictures related to this event.
Every city has one
A Chinatown, that is. On another perfect day a week later, Saturday 17th, the three Canuck gals took a guided walking tour of Cyrildene, the “new” Chinatown of Joburg.
It is a very small area in one of the (previously Jewish) burbs, where the Chinese community migrated once their traditional CBD area became unsafe.
For us the highlight was visiting a Buddhist temple and hearing from their head monk and then participating in a tea ceremony.
As in Ottawa and Vancouver, “Chinatown” is a broad term and encompasses Thai and Vietnamese shops. We recognized many of the typical vegetables and ended up having lunch at a Thai place.
Maboneng, place of light
After driving past highjacked buildings , surrounded by bundles of razor wire covered in garbage, we arrived at the Maboneng Precinct, an entirely different world… Funky whitewashed warehouses full of galleries and shops and a smorgasbord of gourmet food to meet all cultural tastes.
The area, which was predominantly industrial, manufacturing and small business, fell on hard times. Consequently there was opportunity to snap up some originally very well built, vacant buildings at reasonable cost.
A 29-year old “entrepreneur”, Jonathan Leibman, formed a company called Propertuity, which has been the driving force to transform this area into a center of creativity and commerce in the heart of Joburg.
One of the first businesses to be established, taking advantage of a City program to encourage youth entreprises, is Curiocity Backpackers Hotel. The owner, 21-year old Bheki Dubé, showed us around and mentioned some of the history of this site,
which included being the gathering place for the Black Sash (white middle class women fighting apartheid). It is believed that Mandela and others were also sheltered here at some point.
Another business, I Was Shot In Joburg, is an arts-based entreprise for at-risk youth to manufacture retail items (bags, tshirts, books, cushion covers) that speak to the inner city vibe. The kids were given cameras and the images they captured are used in the making of the merchandise.
We came back twice after to attend movies at the Bioscope. The owner also runs the Chalkboard café next door where one can buy pizza and a nice merlot to bring in to the movies. (Hint to Bytowne owner…) The documentaries were both worth the drive. The first one was based on Franz Fanon’s writing and called “Concerning Violence”. The second one, which we really loved, is called “Jeppe on a Friday” and was done by two women filmmakers. It follows 8 people who live and work in the very same area (Jeppestown) and takes place all in one day. Turned out that one of the filmmakers, Shannon Walsh, is associated with the NFB and made a very similar movie called “26 August, St.Henri” in Montreal a few years ago.
Here is a link to the trailer for Fridays on Jeppe.:
Note to readers: there are a number of links to YouTube on this blog. It’s possible that you are not getting them if you are reading this on a lower rez device like a phone or tablet.
Another dinner at the Leopard
With Canadian friends, of course. On Tuesday 20th, we spent a lovely evening with Ottawans Penny and Gautam as well as Penny’s brother-in-law, Iyavar, who lives in Joburg. They were doing a couple of weeks in SA before heading to Zambia and then India.
Iyavar is a lawyer working on issues of child pornography and travels around the world offering his knowledge to police and courts trying to deal with this terrible scourge.
Gautam related their attempt to get to Beijing, where apparently you can land, but can’t leave. The upshot was they were “deported” straight from the transit lounge and managed to get an early flight to Cape Town.
Where the music and the struggle met
And the whole place was bulldozed to the ground in the mid-50’s, when Sophiatown was declared a “whites only” area.
Sophiatown was a private piece of land which the owner subdivided, hoping to attract white middle class buyers. But it was poorly located (near waste management plants), so he gave up on that and decided he would sell to whoever was interested. Turned out that a large number of black and coloured folks bought up the area and it became a very vibrant neighbourhood.
There were a number of gangs formed (The Americans, The Berliners) who ruled much as they do elsewhere, though most of them stole only from the rich (=whites). They even developed their own lingo, Tsotsitall. So when the cops were coming heading their way, folks would warn them using this secret language.
Sophiatown was where the music was, spawning ground for folks like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe and many more. Of course, this music was also part of the resistance to apartheid. People met at the ODIN theatre where they pretended to watch gangster movies while actually sitting in the back rows and planning the revolution. If you get hold of the 1951 version of “Cry the Beloved Country”, you will see some scenes filmed in Sophiatown.
There are only 3 buildings left of the original Sophiatown, one of them is now the Cultural Centre and that is where we started a walking tour of the area. It was a bit disappointing, since our guide could only point to places and say “that’s where…. used to be” But the museum had some great photos and write ups. And it was another blue sky sunny day in Joburg on Saturday 24th.
And now we are in the Dragon Mountains where Debbie is hiking and Catherine is not hiking. More on that in the next post.
So… that’s all for now, folks!