Johannesburg’s hip transformation
On Sundays and the first Thursday evening of the month, Market on Main takes place at Arts on Main. The craft and cuisine extravaganza fills the ground floor with food stalls, selling everything from Ethiopian curries and injera (sourdough pancakes) to handmade ravioli. Johannesburg is one of Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities but lekker (tasty) South African specialities are also on offer, including boerewors (beef sausage) rolls and bunny chow (curry in a hollowed-out bread loaf), an invention from Indian-dominated Durban.
Upstairs, beneath skylights in the corrugated roof and a rusty pulley from the building’s warehouse days, the stalls sell a quintessentially Johannesburg mix of contemporary and traditional items, reflecting the rich culture of this Afro-metropolis. Leather jackets and silk cushions are sold next to rolls of block-printed fabric and beaded Maasai belts.
Sunday is also a great time to explore the rest of the Maboneng Precinct, where Fox and Kruger Streets in particular bustle with people dining al fresco and strolling between shops and cafes.
The excellent choice of local eateries includes Blackanese Sushi & Wine Bar, with its noodle bar, chopstick-decorated walls and, as the name suggests, black chefs preparing sushi platters. There is also PataPata, a 1950s-style diner and deli; Eat Your Heart Out kosher deli; House of Baobab, specialising in African cuisine such as couscous and stews; Sharp!, which offers a chance to experience the typical shisha nyama (social gatherings and braais) that smoke away on township corners; and Little Addis, serving the same spicy, filling Ethiopian dishes and platters that draw crowds to Market on Main. On House of Baobab’s rooftop, the Living Room bar-cafe is a local favourite for sundowners; its sofas, hammocks and eco-garden gazing over the towers of Johannesburg’s CBD.
While you are wandering, do not miss Area3, a space run by Adidas, which regularly holds exhibitions, events and parties to showcase local art, music, fashion and sports talent. And the Maboneng Precinct even has an independent cinema. Located in the Main Street Life complex, a renovated textile factory, The Bioscope shows a programme of African-interest features as well as international films and documentaries.
Viewing apartments may not sound like the most fun activity, but free tours of chic conversions give fascinating insight into the far-sighted and utopian vision underlying Maboneng, where people are invited to contribute to the area’s reinvention by coming to work, live and play. Call Propertuity a day in advance to organise the tour (010-007-0080) or inquire at the information office inside the shipping container near the corner of Fox and Kruger Streets; on Sunday you may be able to turn up and join an existing one.
On the tour, a Propertuity sales agent will lead you between buildings including Artisan Lofts, a converted 1950s office block; Revolution House, originally a 1930s material shop; and Main Street Life. Inside the complexes is a stunning collection of penthouse apartments, open-plan spaces and smaller units, all slickly converted and reflecting the buildings’ manufacturing heritage in their high ceilings and exposed beams. Amazingly, as the idea of inner-city living has yet to enter mainstream Johannesburg in earnest, believers in this project can pick up a studio for as little as 350,000 rand, making this urban revolution a tempting and realistic proposition.
If you prefer to explore the streets, Main Street Walks offers a five-hour Maboneng tour which takes in attractions including Arts on Main and the Kwa Mai-Mai Market, where traditional clothing and items are sold alongside the ingredients of potions and medicine made by sangomas (traditional healers).