Working Lives South Africa

Nick Christowitz

The small cafe part-owned by Nick Christowitz in the centre of Johannesburg is impeccably designed and achingly cool.

Seated among the clean lines and sharp wooden panelling is a fashionable multi-racial crowd. Beards, bold-coloured trainers and skinny jeans are de rigueur for the men. Many of the women wear vintage-style clothing.

South Africa Direct branding

Nothing remarkable in this perhaps. Similar scenes can be found in many cities around the world. But Christowitz's cafe is in an area of Johannesburg that until recently was off limits to many.

Johannesburg's central business district or CBD was built in the booming 1960s during the apartheid years when it was off limits to blacks. But as apartheid began to crumble, the area began to lose its sheen.

Post-apartheid, the area went into steep decline. Businesses and residents fled to the city's northern suburbs and it became a byword for crime and poverty.

But that is changing.

"Slowly everyone's just creeping back in," Christowitz says. "It happened so quickly. It was two or three years and look at it now.

"There are nightclubs, restaurants, and little coffee shops and people (are) coming here to live now too, not just students but middle-income living, which is cool."

Part of the explanation for the turnaround is the money pumped into the district by the city government.

But it is also the efforts of graphic designer Christowitz and his trendy group of friends that are breathing life back into the area.

For Christowitz, this buzzing area is a real sign of hope that South Africa might finally escape its brutal legacy and move to a brighter future.

"There's such a great sense of community here," he says. "There (are) no weird vibes between people.

"You almost forget about the past. No-one ever will, but you just get a feeling like, oooh, we're getting somewhere!"

Read more Working Lives here.

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