I spent quite a lot of time in Johannesburg, where I stayed with Heather, an amazing woman I used to work with when we both led very different lives in Washington, DC. Heather has been living in Jozi for a few years now, and is a photographer and blogger (her blog, 2summers, is all about life in Johannesburg, and is pretty awesome – check it out!).
Johannesburg after a downpour.
The Telkom Tower and some other Jozi buildings, as seen from a Hillbrow sidewalk.
Heather and I got into all sorts of fun shenanigans in and around Johannesburg. We filled our days with art and photography, live music, and exploration. We also spent a fair amount of time hunkering down in coffee shops playing on our blogs and Instagram, due to Jozi’s decision to torrentially rain for about half of my visit.
Part of the Jozi skyline as seen from Hillbrow.
The city as seen from the Melville Koppies (Afrikaans for “hills”). One of the reasons I love Jozi is that it is the biggest manmade forest in the world, with over 10 million trees. It actually looks like a city sprouting up from a dense forest. It’s awesome.
I fell in love with Johannesburg, and I really have Heather to thank for this – she showed me so much of the city, and I got to go places and do things I would never have done if I’d been touring Jozi alone.
One day, Heather and I attended an artist’s tour of her works in the city. We walked around with Hannelie Coetzee who puts up awesome installations in often dark and otherwise-unnoticed areas of Jozi. One of her works is on the wall beside this underpass, where I snapped this photo.
Coetzee’s installation near the underpass, engraved directly into the wall.
Another of Hannelie Coetzee’s works, on the side of a butchery in Fordsburg.
Another of Coetzee’s works was in this abandoned and burned-out city post office. It apparently took a lot of work for her to be able to bring her tour group inside, since it’s condemned. Such a cool place to go, though.
Jozi is sort of like the NYC of South Africa (or, so I hear, of Sub-Saharan Africa in general). I love NYC, but I think I might like Jozi more (gasp!) because it is just a little rougher around the edges, a little edgier, a little more…well, African. And therefore more interesting. It’s big with a big city-feel (~10 million people, skyscrapers, the works), it’s multicultural, it has tons of boroughs, each with its own eccentric claim to fame. Also in Jozi, I found places and events that were the most harmoniously diverse I’ve ever experienced. By this I mean, many places Heather and I went, and many things we did, were about equally attended by people of both black and white race – and everyone seemed to simply enjoy themselves, together. This struck me because even in multicultural epicenters like New York, you’ll almost always find far more of one race than the other at any given bar or event or show. In the US, and everywhere else I’ve been, one race tends to dominate, depending on the scene. This was very much not the case in Johannesburg. I don’t mean to imply there is no longer racial tension or race-based issues in Jozi – there are plenty. And I know the racial harmonizing I witnessed is a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa, too. However, it was an interesting, enlightening, new, and highly positive experience. It’s something I wish was easier to find in my own cities.
Heather and I attended a Vieux Farka Toure concert at Bassline (one of two live music events I attended in Jozi!). The band is from Mali, and the music and dancing were incredible. This guy was showing some Malian pride, dancing with his flag the whole time.
Sunset at an art exhibit Heather and I attended at Circa on Jellicoe, a brand new art gallery in Rosebank. (One of two art galleries/museums I went to in Jozi! My time there really was awesome – full of creative beauty and danceable soundwaves…)
An installation at Circa on Jellicoe.
Another shot of this really awesome piece of work.
I hope that this blog post changes some opinions about Johannesburg. The city has a terrible reputation, both globally and in other parts of South Africa, for having a culture of extreme violence and for being highly dangerous for tourists as well as the people who live there. Every time I mentioned to someone – whether foreign or South African – that I had spent time in Johannesburg, the reaction was unfortunately the same: surprise, incredulity that I’d spent so much time there, shock that anyone would want to go there – and then, when I would mention how I actually fell in love with the city, the reaction shifted to disbelief and a shrugging off of my opinions: “Well…if you say so…” This is really disappointing to me, because I feel Jozi has a lot to offer and is being harshly judged by insiders and outsiders alike, often based on events of the past that are now changing and improving in the city. There is a lot of redevelopment happening in the rougher parts of Jozi, a focus on community engagement, and a rapidly growing art scene, which is amazing and driven by highly active and wonderfully talented street artists, photographers, performers, and poets. Sure, you have to be careful. It’s a big city with its share of big problems. But it’s also full of kindness and creativity and community. Johannesburg is a place I would like to live. You should give it a chance.
Ponte City in Hillbrow. This building is an example of how one of the rougher areas is being improved. At one time, this building was hijacked by gangs. Now, it’s cleaned up and becoming re-inhabited by legitimate renters, with a large community center in the bottom.
Streets of Hillbrow.
Hillbrow is one of the harder areas of the city, but Heather and I were graciously escorted by George, her boxing coach, who lives there and seems to know everyone. After Heather’s boxing session in Hillbrow one morning, George walked us all around the neighborhood, giving us the grand tour and sharing his knowledge of the place’s history, having grown up there. Here is George and an…interesting…restaurant we found. It has an “automatical” sliding door!
Heather is part of a group of talented photographers who use Instagram as one medium for their pictures. They held an “Instawalk” around the Gandhi Square area of Jozi, and I tagged along. My photos aren’t edited in Instagram, but I like them nonetheless.
Shot on the Instawalk.
Shot on the Instawalk.
Shot on the Instawalk. Reflections! This building was really shiny.
Shot on the Instawalk.
Ok, I did edit this one in Instagram. @emilylime3.
Shifting gears from the Instawalk:
Fordsburg, where there are a ton of Indian restaurants and sweet shops. Fun evening out for Indian food!
Another building I photographed in Hillbrow.
At Bean There Coffee Co., the only place in South Africa where Heather’s found iced coffee. (I found more in Cape Town, but it was more of a coffee slushy so it doesn’t really count).
You can buy airtime AND diapers here.
And last, another piece of random and really cool artwork on a wall at 44 Stanley.
I heart Johannesburg.
Someone give me a job there!