My last week was phenomenal! My first time in South Africa coincided with Sauti Sol’s first win at the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) 🙂 After the madness of managing Sauti Sol’s red carpet interviews at MAMA 2016, post-win celebrations and sending quite a number of press releases; I decided to stay a week to meet some industry people, and taste Jozi’s vibe. Tomas and I have heard a lot about South Africa and South African people, so our expectations were grand. I am not really hard to impress like he is but somehow it took us at least four days to get into Jozi’s vibe. Our last day was magical! From visiting Jozi’s downtown, tapping into Maboneng’s famed cool, shopping all the South African beads I ever wanted, to attending Tresor’s concert – we loved Jozi! I curated you a list of things to do when in South Africa’s biggest city.
1. Visit Soweto (South Western Townships)
It should be a crime to be in South Africa and not visit Soweto. This is probably South Africa’s most famous hood and known to be home of high profile residents like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. It is also the founding place of Kwaito and Kasi Rap genres. Soweto is also remembered for the infamous Soweto Uprising, mass protests over government’s policy to enforce education in Afrikaans language rather than their native language, that lead to twenty three deaths and several sanctions on the country thereafter.
If you’re keen, you will spot two of South Africa’s largest stadiums: FNB Stadium (where the FIFA world cup 2010 was held) and Orlando Stadium (where Cassper Nyovest recently filled) while driving around Soweto.
Mandela’s House, number 8115 is along Vilakazi Street. This was Mandela’s home from 1946 to 1962. You will know you have arrived at the house as soon as you get to Vilakazi Street because of the beehive activities and the number of tourists in the vicinity. It was so surreal yet humbling to be in Mandela’s actual house.
Read: Visiting Mandela House: Retracing Nelson Mandela’s Soweto Home
2. Visit Apartheid Museum
Opened in 2001, the museum is situated in The Complex along Northern Park Way and Gold Reed Road. Anybody visiting Jozi should take time to visit the museum to learn South Africa’s history. Digging deep into their apartheid history (1948 – 1994) will augment on your basic history and humanity lessons. Through rooms designed as exhibitions, prison or detention rooms, and videos, films, audios among news excerpts – the museum documents, era by era, in detail how apartheid segregated the majority of black inhabitants and other ethnic groups from certain rights, associations and movements while maintaining white minority rule.
The apartheid museum brings to light the origin of segregation from Day 1 bush-man-days. It documents how South Africa was just another African country up until the discovery of its gold mines, and how that discovery made it the Mecca of traders, westerners and people of all races – making it at one point the African country that had the most racial and varied inhabitants. It takes you on a journey beyond the rise and fall of apartheid. It left Tomas and I baffled by the reality that if we had been together in South Africa at a different time, our relationship would have been considered a crime based on our skin colour. Even more disturbing is that this situation existed within our lifetime … I will post a separate blog on the museum, soon.
3. Shop till you drop
Yes! Everything is cheaper in South Africa – from fashion items, beads to fast/gourmet food. Most times, you get better quality. One extremely annoying thing about Jozi malls and shops, however, is that they all close early, starting 5 p.m. and almost all by 8 p.m. This might make sense to South Africans because they can always decide to shop any other day and time. For tourists like me, we like to start our days early and finish quite late, preferably with shopping starting 8 p.m. like in Amsterdam and Stockholm shopping districts. That said—check out Jozi’s Sandton and Mall of Africa malls for your H&M, Zara and Mr. Price basics. Rosebank has open walks and small shops stocking cool South African fashion brands, and unique collector’s items. Shopping freaks like me – be careful! The malls are grandiose! By the time you are done, it’s going to feel like you were on a treadmill. Don’t take a picture by the massive Nelson Mandela statue by Mandela Square – my friends say that it’s so lame and considered to be the most touristy thing to do while in Jozi. I had already done that by the time I knew it 🙂
4. Sample Local Designers
Stop by Melville’s 27 Boxes for an equally nice spread of local designers – got a dope neckpiece there. Work Shop New Town in town. It houses unique shops stocking more local designers like Maria Mcloy’s unique fashion items, and Laduma Ngxokolo’s knitwear designs, inspired by Xhosa heritage. International designers include Kenya’s Adelle Dejak – was so proud to see her stuff. Also got the Zulu traditional married women’s hat (for only about 15 Dollars) and some really cool shoes and bangles at Maria’s store 🙂
Check out my travel tales from Amsterdam: Love, Sex and Drugs (Part I
5. Visit Sandton & Melville
We split our Jozi stay by staying four nights in Rivonia, Sandton and three nights in Melville. I loved Rivonia’s peace and calm, and our airbnb crib’s swanky design – it was like a magazine! Staying as Jozi’s business district was convenient during the MAMAs weekend because it was near Radisson Blu and Hilton Hotels—the HQ of MTV activities.
While in the area, rave at Taboo. We left Taboo half full at about 8 a.m. at the MAMA 2016 after party 🙂
I am history buff so while in Rivonia, I remembered the setting of one of my best speeches of all time. Nelson Mandela in the dock, 1964 at the Rivonia Trial: “I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Most of our South African friends described Melville as the bohemian place that had its heydays. Oneal tagged it as “artsy” like I am. Today, it’s unanimous, that Melville still gives off a good vibe, very different from the affluence and the snobbishness of Sandton and other high-end suburbs. While in Melville, stay at Life on 3rd – a good B&B aptly situated in between residential homes and just a walking distance from Melville’s boisterous 7th street. The bars and restaurants along 7th street exude a laid back yet funky aura. We both had a jamais-vu. Melville is like the cool street in downtown San Fransisco we’ve never been to.
You must dine at Federal and drink at Hell’s Kitchen. Federal served us the best food in South Africa. Their service was stellar too! For starters order – Corn hush puppies served with baba ganoushe radish, and mange tout micro salad and Chicken pops served in salted caramel popcorn and a BBQ mustard dip for starters. Your mains should either be Braised beef or their specials – pork or burgers. When I saw Hell’s Kitchen, I ran in to inquire if it’s Gordon Ramsey’s – they must get that a lot. Melville’s Hell Kitchen is a rock-themed Whiskey Bar, not at all affiliated to Gordon Ramsey, with the naughty neon sign: BE NAKED WHEN I GET HOME.
6. Gautrain to Downtown
Best thing we did while in Jozi! Most times, tourists never get to feel the complete pulse of a city’s heartbeat because locals always warn them against crowded areas or downtown, but these places are usually the spice of the meat. Accompanied by my designer friend Maria – also top Publicist in SA – we take the Gautrain into town. First of all let me commend South Africans! Their train station is properly organized and neat. It actually puts to shame some of the shitty train stations in Paris. Will not even comment on Kenyan trains.
That time I tried a Kenyan train: Makadara Train Hell on Valentine’s Day – never again!
Jozi town is crowded but trust me Nairobi and Lagos are thrice as crowded. This makes me feel like I am cruising in Nairobi’s Westlands area on a Saturday. Some clothes we saw at Rosebank Mall shops were going for less than half price in town. Street vendors were hawking fruits, beads, funky shades and just about anything you would want. This is the South Africa I wanted to experience. I bought so many beads – my boyfriend literally banned me from walking close to the vendors at some point. Downtown and seeing ordinary South Africans provided a different experience. It was also good to be in town and free of Mkokotenis and blaring motorbikes and Tuk Tuks, like in Nairobi. Jozi is orderly. And of course, there are similarities, in design and feel, between Jozi and Nairobi colonial buildings. It just looked like uptown Nairobi on a grand scale.
7. While in town – visit Maboneng Precinct.
It’s the place of creative and cool people—I’ve been told even before my arrival in Jozi. On our last night we head over to Maboneng for dinner and to party with our South African friends. The first thing I spot is Pata Pata restaurant. Bless Miriam Makeba! The general aesthetic of the streets, establishments and apartments is catchy and creatively thought through. On the street where we are dining, one block fits all. There are apartments and rooms to let on the upper floors with the bottom, as well as warehouses across, housing patios with open restaurants, art galleries, theatre, studios and coffee bars. There is a theatre next door to the make-your-own- pizza place where we dine. What’s more? The cinema allows guests to walk in with their pizzas 🙂 I wish we had visited Maboneng during the day, caught a film and got to see the Museum of African Design. There will have to be a next time. I think this would be my kind of hood if I lived in Jozi. Once a dangerous and boring part of town, today Maboneng is perhaps one of the best expressions of South Africa’s new age and restoration.
BONUS: Thanks a lot Maria, Valentine, Oneal and Titi – for making my time in Jozi memorable. Can’t wait for you to come to my city 🙂
I also wrote 6 Things to do when in Rwanda you might like this!