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Johannesburg, Jozi, City of Gold, Egoli ...

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Whatever you choose to call this thrumming metropolis, there’s no doubt that Johannesburg is a city of contrasts. But the old “crime and grime” view of the CBD is fast changing, with urban renewal forging ahead. Rooftops have become increasingly popular for exhibitions, concerts and corporate functions. Some of the tallest buildings in Africa are here in the CBD, dwarfing the old and handsome art deco buildings which have been preserved as the treasures they are.

The photograph below encapsulates Jozi development. The lovely old domed building in the forefront is the 1930s Standard Bank building, overlooked by the post-modern, glass-clad JCI structure. Although it was raining at the time, it’s clear to see how these spaces are often used now as recreational spaces in the urban jungle.

The Gautrain, one of the more recent additions to the sophisticated hub of Gauteng, runs from ORT International Airport, and has made access a breeze to many parts of the city as well as Pretoria. Embarking at ORT you can leave the train at one of many stations, including Marlboro, Sandton, Rosebank and Park Station in the city centre. For Pretoria, you merely need to change trains at Marlboro to head north via Midrand, Centurion, Hatfield and Pretoria itself. The train is safe, clean and well monitored, as are the stations, and saves much time and effort for those who would otherwise fetch you at the airport but now have to travel only a short distance to an intervening station.

Once you’ve cast an eye over the Jozi CBD, and possibly lunched at one of the many eateries in the city centre (the Maboneng precinct comes to mind with its many art and craft areas adjoining the restaurants and coffee shops), you might be tempted to escape the concrete jungle for some fresh air in parts of the largest man-made urban forest in the world (Jozi has over 10 million trees). When I lived there, the Houghton Wilds was a rather dicey area and certainly not walkable by a woman on her own. All that has changed now, thanks to artist James Delaney and his band of volunteers. Delaney lived nearby, and while walking his dog in this neglected park he attacked the overgrown area with a spade and secateurs and started clearing. To his astonishment he found collections of wonderful indigenous trees and plants, stone pathways, new benches that had been delivered but never installed.

Piece by piece, weekend by weekend, he cleared away undergrowth, to uncover yellowwood and wild olive forests, and stunning flora. He gathered up an army of volunteers; the work proceeded apace and the park is now a showpiece. Crowds over weekends are drawn here for wonderful views of the Johannesburg skyline, picnics on Giraffe Lawn, elegant stone pathways, lawns, ponds and waterfalls, indigenous vegetation, animal-sculpture spotting and birding. You can walk your dog there over weekends, as long as you bring with you some poop bags.

Joburg has a rep as a concrete jungle, but thankfully there are several green areas in the form of parks, nature reserves and the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden, a magnificent area where if you’re lucky you will see the breeding pairs of Verreaux Eagles soaring above the waterfall cliff. My heart has soared with them on several occasions; for all its challenges South Africa has so many areas where we can slough off our cares and realise how lucky we are. Oh, and the Walter Sisulu garden also hosts concerts, usually on summer Sunday afternoons. Take a picnic and a bottle of wine and prepare for a rejuvenating and joyful experience.

Melville Koppies is another such area, where stone age remnants and iron age artefacts are still uncovered today. You’d be advised to join one of the tours offered, though – it’s not wise to wander around here on your own.

Emmarentia Dam is definitely worth a visit – a large inner city expanse of water which is celebrated by the many canoeists who paddle around over weekends and after work. There’s a rose garden close by, and oh my word, can I get lost in that expanse of beauty! And a long stretch of lawn that seats the thousands who come to hear whatever concert is being offered there.

I could go on, but I hope that your curiosity has been piqued and on your next Jozi visit you’ll try some of the largesse that this city has to offer for those who are prepared to explore. You’ll be surprised at how soon you learn to love this dense asphalt jungle with the not-so-good, and perhaps not quite deserved, reputation.

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