A Shot of Jozi

A Magnificent mural in the urban regeneration project's Mboneng.  Pic: Nikki Brighton

A Magnificent mural in the urban regeneration project’s Mboneng. Pic: Nikki Brighton

A Shot of Jozi
Feeling old, uninspired or just plain tired? Forget about a few days at the spa. A trip to Jozi is just what you need. From the Midlands, Johannesburg looks terrifying. The gated estates, the endless traffic, and piles of broken concrete are unappealing. Head to the inner city however and the energy and colour is mesmerising.

I explored Maboneng – the Place of Light. This urban regeneration project is utterly inspiring. Dreary buildings are transformed with murals, planters filled with grass, trees line the pavements, there is no litter, cafes are tucked into alley ways and apartments overlook the action. The battered brickwork of old warehouses is juxtaposed with up to the minute colour combinations that revive tired buildings, Edwardian architecture alongside the edgy industrial style. Plenty of artists have studios here. The Bioscope has re-purposed old car seats for cinema seating. Many shops sold vintage clothing while others were filled with funky ShweShwe frocks.

The names of the cafes are all so clever, but it still has a neighbourhood feel. Women working in factories sit on the benches with their lunch, people stop to chat on the pavement and no one seems in a rush. Actually, I was really struck by the friendliness in Jo’burg altogether. Even the beggars, junk sellers and pamphlet distributors at the traffic lights are friendly and chatty!

In Melville, I explored a shopping centre created entirely from shipping containers. At a bar on 7th Street, I drank local beer – Soweto Gold – and watched hipsters, tattooed girls and a man in fairy wings wander by. Braamfontein is an older urban regeneration project where colourful metal sculptures line the clean streets. The NeighbourGoods Market has heaps, absolutely heaps, of fabulous food which you can enjoy on the rooftop terrace with fantastic views. A charming young man sold me bread he had baked just that morning, an Italian couple had me taste every one of their handmade cheeses and a cool pair of ice cream makers were able to tell me where the cows that produce the milk for their ice cream lived.

My experience was overwhelmingly young, vibrant, filled with infectious enthusiasm and entrepreneurial verve. Much to my amusement, a trendy 20-something shop keeper waxed lyrical about my grey hair, longing for the day her dark braids would be streaked with silver. Who would have thought that the big city could be so inspiring and refreshing? Go.