A couple of months ago, I experienced Jozi Walks following in the blazing trail set by Jane’s Walk Festival which is celebrated in the first week of May in hundreds of cities around the world. Established by the Johannesburg Development Agency, the annual event is a platform for visitors and locals to walk the streets exploring different communities, new ideas, local heroes, artwork, and against-all-odds success stories.
At the center of a network of year-round walking tours, Jozi Walks is both facilitating residents of Joburg to get to know the neighborhoods better and visitors to meet other people whilst exploring city attractions in a safe, welcoming, and informative way. Each walking tour is presented by an expert in their neighborhood, be it a historian, activist, entertainer, or tour guide. Inspired by Jozi Walks, I list eight of my favorite walks that take the visitor into the heart of Johannesburg City, or Jozi as it is affectionately known.
Take a Walk in The Wilds
Johannesburg has the largest planted urban forest in the world. The Wilds is a public park on the city fringe. The location, originally an open rock space was donated to the city in the 1930s and forested with a lush array of plant species including yellowwoods, wild olives, bush willows, fevers, cycads, and clivia.
Artist James Delaney has brought this inner city attraction to life with metal sculptures of animals creating visitor destinations in the park. Many little owls hang high in the canopy of a grove of yellowwood trees, and two pink and yellow giraffes peer down the central park. Bush babies hide alongside the royal stone staircase that climbs the hill and a huge red kudu stands regally at the water ponds.
Liberation History of Soweto
Dube Village, a suburb of Soweto, has produced some of South Africa’s finest leaders and is at the center of the struggle for liberation from oppression.
Writer and activist Cheche Selepe is a walking encyclopaedia as he takes visitors through this delightful neighborhood, drawing on history and living memory to paint a vivid picture of the power of a community in action.
Living legends such as previous Gauteng Premier Tokyo Sexwale and the man of integrity, Andrew Mlangeni, Mandela’s neighbor in jail for 26 years, open their houses for visitors to experience the resilience, determination, and sense of humanity that birthed a new and democratic South Africa.
Marshalltown’s Hidden Book Taverns
The literary history of Marshalltown can be traced back to 1890 when there were already 11 bookshops and libraries within a few blocks of the Old City Hall. Today there are 80 street vendors as well as pop-up bookshops, specializing in both new and secondhand trade. On the first Sunday morning of every month, American-born Griffin Shea together with a storyteller march a group of enthusiastic booklovers down these historic streets to meet some of the most innovative booksellers such as Blessing and Present Tsakatsa, cousins from Zimbabwe with their resilient and well-curated store with a string of classic titles.
Brixton to Braamfontein
Sifiso Ntuli, founder of the Afro-soul kitchen Roving Bantu, offers guided tours starting at the strategic high point of the city, Brixton, and roaming down onto the city perimeter at Braamfontein cemetery.
Burial sites for the Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the Boer War, and monuments to Chinese indentured laborers and Enoch Santonga, composer of the South African national anthem, preserve a living memory and fascinating history of the many people from all over the world who contributed to this city.
The fashion district, situated on the edge of the city center, is a melting pot of cultures and countries with a unique Pan-African feel.
Visitors enjoy the array of West African wax fabrics and traditional South African fabrics such as seshoeshoe and can also find bargains at the wholesalers selling unusual fashion items.
The new Fashion Kapitol development provides a mix of historic architecture, small retailers, and the world’s only permanent outdoor fashion ramp. EES Millinery is the biggest supplier of natural feathers to extravaganza shows worldwide. The inner-city fashion college Sew Africa is training future talent.
Braamfontein Comedy Tour
In the hilarious trail set by Sowet-born comedian Trevor Noah, a whole new generation of comedians have blossomed in Johannesburg.
Blogger Suzanne Du Toit has followed her passion for comedy to create a fun walking tour through the buzzing and diverse inner-city suburb Braamfontein. This mixed neighborhood is filled with different comedy spaces including the swanky Johannesburg Theatre, the New York-style basement at Bannister Hotel, Alexander Theatre, and Johannesburg’s second-oldest bar, Kitchener’s.
With a comedian in tow, walkers share in the lighter side of life.
Hillbrow Walking Tour
Hillbrow is a cosmopolitan neighborhood in transition. Resident teenage actor and writer Lesley Moswe takes visitors on a tour of his world. He shares some of his personal stories and then stops to converse with various businesspeople doing good for themselves and their community.
Visitors meet fat cake-seller (the popular local food called vetkoek) Pearl Mabazo, Zimbabwean SIM card-seller Brian Ndlovu, and Nigerian chef Mike Nduka between taking in the sights and sounds of passing attractions like Constitution Hill and the Herb market.
Gallery Hopping in Alexandra
Brothers Simphiwe and Bongani Ngwenya offer visitors a vibrant experience of their hometown Alexandra. Their mom put all her children through school by making fat cakes. Houses and spaces in the township are being transformed into galleries, cinemas, and performance spaces with enjoyable and unifying experiences of food, culture, and conversation.