26 March 2011
Johannesburg: Heart of Gold
Jozi is jumpin' so come and join the locals at the new wave cultural attractions springing up all over town.
Whether you call it Johannesburg, Jozi or Joburg, the capital of the Gauteng Province is a true cultural melting pot.
A cluster of more than 20 contrasting neighbourhoods, new and distinct atmospheres unfold as you move around. Until recently, visitors rarely strayed from Sandton's glitzy shopping malls: anything in the city centre or township areas was deemed unsafe and out of bounds. Now, this is all changing, as artsy types, hipsters and international businesspeople snap up property in the inner city and fuel the revitalisation of areas all around.
Locals are rediscovering their heritage and creating a vibrant new culture based on everything that brings people together: art, crafts, music, food, theatre and dance. All this in a style that is uniquely Joburg – full-on, forthright, unique, clashing, eclectic, colourful and bright.
The new Arts on Main development (pictured below) in downtown Jo'burg is a great example of this cultural explosion. It's a hive of creativity located in a converted warehouse dating back to 1911. Peruse an art exhibition, grab a cocktail at the rooftop bar, or take in a movie at the outdoor cinema.
Braamfontein, an old suburb on the outskirts of the Central Business District [CBD] was once known not just for its famous University of Witwatersrand but its louche clubs and brothels. All that is changing and it is now on the up with a growing collection of outdoor art galleries and restaurants.
Check out the area around Juta Street. Narina Trogon on De Korte Street is a sunshine-filled design eatery with an emphasis on fresh, local and organic food, while Kitchener's Carvery Bar at the Milner Park Hotel may be one of the city's oldest bars (complete with fabric wallpaper) but lately it's become a sought-after venue for some of the city's hottest dance parties.
The Newtown precinct and parts of Fordsburg (a predominantly Asian suburb) is now Joburg's most established creative and cultural hub, complete with art exhibition spaces, dance studios, theatres and craft markets. Discover quirky one-of-a-kind-curios and crafts at the Zasekhaya Market, a must-visit venue held on the corner of Nxumalo Street on the last Saturday of every month.
Location is important in Jozi: the distances between attractions can be vast and traffic can be maddening.
Opt to stay at The Westcliff and you are perfectly positioned between the airport, the chic new cultural enclaves and the shopping districts of Rosebank and Sandton. A cliffside urban sanctuary, the hotel is surrounded by historic grand Randlord mansions, with spectacular views over the Northern suburbs and Magaliesburg mountains beyond.
Active travellers can explore on foot (the hotel offers guided walks of the area in conjunction with The Westcliff Heritage Trust). Taking tea or reclining on a lounger overlooking one of the world's largest man-made forests (particularly when the mauve Jacaranda trees are in bloom) is a definite do-before-you-die experience.
It is certainly the perfect antidote to the sensational sensory overdrive you are likely to experience as you head around town.
By Benita Kursan, a writer based in Cape Town specialising in travel and culture.