Just Joburg: Newtown

In April 1904, Burghersdorp, Johannesburg was burnt to the ground – supposedly because of a threat of the bubonic plague – and from its ashes, Newtown was born.

The original park station platform relocated to Newtown
The original park station platform relocated to Newtown

Lodged between the CBD and Fordsburg, Newtown has been reinventing its hustling bustling self throughout, for better or worse, over the decades. In the process, it has managed to retain diverse bits and pieces of its heritage, making it a unique colourful, cultural, lively part of the city.

One of the things I enjoy most about Newtown is the contrast between old and new with stunning, modern structures staring down at old, run down – but still functional – buildings right across the street.

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Corridor of vendors at Bree Street taxi rank
Corridor of vendors at Bree Street taxi rank
Bree Street taxi rank where thousands of mini bus taxis provide service to commuters
Bree Street taxi rank where thousands of mini bus taxis provide service to commuters
Shops in Newtown
Shops in Newtown
Graffiti on the walls of a run down building
Graffiti on the walls of a run down building
Turbine Hall - one of Johannesburg original power stations, now an office com
Turbine Hall – one of Johannesburg original power stations, now an office and event complex

Just Joburg: Immigrant communities of Mayfair

The Fordsburg /Mayfair area, situated at the periphery of the Johannesburg CBD has always been better known as a vibrant, thriving Muslim district - the home of the Oriental Plaza where you can find a great bargain and which has always been a favourite of mine when looking for curtaining or fabrics.

What most people don’t know is that just a few blocks west of the Plaza,  you encounter a lively, colourful, culturally diverse district which is home to immigrants from Egypt, Ethiopia, Turkey, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Tunisian shops in Mayfair. The blue exterior is apparently to keep evil away.
Tunisian shops in Mayfair. The blue exterior is apparently to keep evil away.
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An Ethiopian corner store

The majority of residents were very friendly and mildly curious about our presence but some were quite obviously apprehensive and a couple asked why we were there.  This is possibly because many are illegal immigrants who have fled their countries due to war and famine and an intrusion of  ‘strangers’ with cameras into their neighbourhood may have felt a bit threatening.  The gentlemen in the above picture were happy for me to take a photo of their store – but not all were so obliging.

Our extremely knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Ishvara.
Our extremely knowledgeable and entertaining guide, Ishvara.

Ishvara, our tour guide yesterday, is very knowledgeable about the cultures, religions, neighbourhood and exotic cuisine.  I highly recommend the tour if you want to see the backstreets and shops and really want to experience a bit about the people who now call Mayfair ‘home’.

One stop you have to make if you’re in the area is the bakery at the corner of 9th Avenue and Hanover Street where they make the most scrumptious savouries and refreshing, sweet hibiscus juice.  I forgot to take a photo there because I was so occupied with eating and drinking.

The infusion of rich aromas of spices, incense and delicious food – and some less pleasant odours in certain parts; the vibrant colours and buzzing atmosphere made me feel like I had stepped into another world for the morning when, in fact, I was just a couple of kilometres from home.

Just Joburg: The Gardens of St Christopher

Last weekend, The Gardens of St Christopher, which are hidden away in the lovely leafy, (frightfully expensive) northern Joburg suburb of Hyde Park – yes, we also have a Hyde Park here in Joeys daaarlings – were open to the public to raise money for Johannesburg Child Welfare.

The entrance fee was just R50 per person and there was a very reasonably priced tea garden, coffee bar, sorbet stand and even a champagne tent.  Some folk took along picnic blankets and spread themselves out on the lovely, luscious lawns and enjoyed a Joburg spring day in aid of a very good cause.

Definitely something to mark down to do again on next year’s calendar.