Despite the bad rap it often gets for being a dangerous city as a result of what a local tourism expert describes as “naive political leadership that talks badly about the inner city instead of promoting what it could be”, Johannesburg has a bucket-load of hidden tourism treasures that will absolutely blow your mind away.
As Jozi tour specialist and JoburgPlaces.com founder, Gerald Garner, explained to a room full of journalists ahead of the planned tour of the Joburg inner city on Wednesday (September 23), Johannesburg has a fascinating story tell.
“If any international traveller ever comes to South Africa or a local travels within the country, the number one destination to visit would have to be Johannesburg, because you can’t understand this country if you don’t understand Joburg. This is the one place where all the histories come together.
“Not only it is the cradle of humankind, but also the country we live in today was actually formed here. From all the way back to the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1884, and the colonial times before that, to the Aglo Boer War and the 1910 formation of the Union of South Africa under British domination, which is the forerunner of the country we live in today.”
Garner added: “But of course that country didn’t work that well because most South African people were excluded from their own country. And really it is the streets of the city of Johannesburg where the struggle history and the story of how we overcame apartheid is alive. It is a story we all learn from, whether you are a local or world traveller.”
Welcome to Joburg – A City Reimagined
Johannesburg was rebuilt six times in its very short history of 130 years, meaning in every 20 or so. “No other city in the world has seen so many wounds of burst so fast in succession. If you walk the streets of the city, you’re going to see all the 6 traces of the cities,” said Garner, adding: “We believe the seventh of Johannesburg is about to rise in a post COVID-19 world.
“We believe lifestyle and the way we’re living is about to change, drastically. We believe the inner city will actually become a residential neighborhood that will show the future of our country. We will give up our electric fences and our isolated homes where we hide from everyone, and start living more together. That way we can become a far more exciting place.”
“Joburg is alive and has a lot to offer now that the country has re-opened the travel industry under COVID-19 Alert level 1, and people are confident to travel.”Jozi expert tour guide, Gerald Garner
Garner acknowledges that Joburg has had a rough time in the last 4 years, and is working hard to overcome far-reaching consequences brought by difficult challenges such as the wave of xenophobic attacks in 2019, which severely dented the city’s image, and now COVID-19. However, he insists it is not the end of the city.
“Interestingly, since the lockdown reopening, it is as if there’s a new energy in the city, it seems we learned to rely more on each other, and tourism companies are talking and working together.”
The message, in the end of the tour, came loud and clear; Joburg has a lot to offer, be it its iconic history, world cuisine, arts life – all which are as richly diverse as its overall culture.
Below are some of the historically rich tourism treasures that we explored during the Joburg Tourism’s state of readiness media tour this week, which formed part of the Welcome2Joburg – A City Reimagined campaign.
Celebrating African diversity in fashion, the proudly South African store is operated by the exquisitely talented Thula Sindi. The store boasts a remarkable collection of clothing from more than 20 different designers, half of them South African and half from the rest of Africa.
As expert tour guide, Gerald Garner, better described Africa Rise’s unique offering, here you can find the things travellers want to experience when they come to South Africa. “Yes Africa Rise has store in Sandton City, but believe you me, travellers rather walk the streets of Johannesburg and then buy real African made clothing in an African city, and not in a mall that could be in Dubai.”
The Rand Club is one of Johannesburg’s great heritage landmarks in South Africa, founded in October 1887.
The formerly exclusive gentlemen’s club is now led by manager Phil Thurston, part of whose mission is to make it inclusive. “So we welcome anyone from anywhere all over the world (including women),” he said.
Among the biggest changes the club has done is to open up the ground floor and the basement which has a book store to the public. “The reason I wanted to do that is this building is not owned by anyone, or any of its founding members, but is now run as a non-profit organisation.”
The club also hosts regular public events such as jazz concerts, wedding and birthday parties, including movies and game nights, you name it.
Looking for a unique book store that caters to both Western and African writers? Bridge Books, a go-between for publishers in South Africa and smaller book retailers who might not have access to new books, is one such a gem.
Situated at 85 Commissioner Street (corner Harrison), anyone can walk in and buy new and second-hand books. Also operating as a non-profit that gives African books to libraries and schools across South Africa, the store hosts regular book events, writing workshops and other fun stuff for word nerds of all types.
NB: All photos used in this article were taken with the all new and powerful Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (5G).