Seeing Johannesburg for the first time: a walking tour of Fordsburg

Yesterday I finally entered the behemoth that is Johannesburg. And came out not only alive, but carrying packets of spice and some rose petal jam. As well as lots of pretty pictures on my camera.

Joburg (as it seems to be known colloqially) is one of those infamous cities whose reputation strides before it. Known for years as a centre of terrifying crime, it is finally starting to get its day. In the past few years, the city has gone from mass robberies and tyre burnings to street art and hipster markets. I have seen it mentioned many times as one of those “up and coming” places that you must get to before everyone else arrives….which is probably news to the many people who have been happily living there for years. But it is definitely being cited as one of the hip and happening cities on this planet right now.

photo tour b and w

Nevertheless, for someone like myself living in cosy, provincial Pretoria, sprawling Johannesburg is still a fairly daunting prospect. So I was grateful when one of the parents at the school my children go to invited me along on a photography group walking tour in the city – a great way, I thought, to not only learn more about the country I live in but also to start to get a feel for Johannesburg and it’s districts. As well as have a social outing and meet some new people.

As it turned out, the tour was of an area that I would otherwise probably never have thought of visiting, which was even more of a bonus. I should probably have started with Soweto, where I could have learned more about the Apatheid regime and the uprisings against it. But I do at least already know a bit about that era (after all, didn’t all us students in the 1980’s sing Freeeeee Nelson Mandela and take part in protests aginst our government’s support of the South African government of the time?), and I look forward to learning more. Yesterday was about visiting the area where some of the most recent immigrants into this “rainbow nation” have made their homes: Fordsburg.

man in meat restaurant

We were met by our guide Ishvara (a South African chef with a side-line in tour-guiding) on a street in the middle of this compact centre of immigrant life. Right next to us was an old train carriage that had been adapted into a meditteranean restaurant. Next to that were some toilets bearing an inscription that told you the building now housing the Ladies and Gents had once been the focus of a communist uprising. Across the road was a huge banner proclaming that this was a place to buy your “share” (eg a goat or other sacrificial lamb) for Eid. We were surrounded on all sides by a reminder that this was an area that was forever changing – as new immirgants arrived, those who were more established moved on to other areas.

old and new

The old and the new…

We set off as a group and were taken down streets, into shops, through covered market areas, past a huge variety of colourful streetlife that made me feel more like I was in South London than South Africa. It was a good reminder that we are becoming ever more multi-cultural in this world and wherever you go you will almost certainly be able to source a good curry.

Each street or couple of streets was home to a different culture and thus we met and photographed people from Pakistan, Morocco, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Somalia….it was certainly a fascinating insight, although difficult in such a short space of time to really understand how these people felt about living here or how intergrated they were able to be (not very much I understood – but these are the first generation. It usually takes two or three generations before cultures properly mix). We did learn though from our guide that these were peaceful people, trying to make a living from their clothes shops or their jewellery outlets. No-one was interested in some of the more extreme ways of others of their religion – many of them had moved from their home countries to escape from that way of life.

DSC_0145

two women in black

The friendliest street in Fordsburg - smiling Somalis

The friendliest street in Fordsburg – smiling Somalis

Overall, it was a very interesting whistle-stop tour of a fascinating part of Johannesburg. We ended with a return to the South Africa more familar to most of us – a traditional Afrikaans-run butchers shop. It felt like a fitting ending and a good way to remind us that although there were many people arriving in Johannesburg and bringing with them their culture, food and way of life – we were still in South Africa.

And we're back in South Africa....

And we’re back in South Africa….

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18 thoughts on “Seeing Johannesburg for the first time: a walking tour of Fordsburg

  1. Great post Clara – I never made it to Fordsburg but was fascinated the one time we flew to Egypt and had a whole family in white robes sitting behind us, ready to go on some Muslim pilgrimage. They were super friendly when we started talking to them, and what struck me then is that they sounded totally South African, even though they looked like from the Middle East. It is indeed a great multicultural city, and in many ways very tolerant. Nice pictures too!

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  2. Hi Clara – you got some wonderful photographs, so evocative of the nature of this little corner of South Africa. It certainly sounds exactly like the sort of place most people would never think to visit unless they knew someone there.

    I loved your observation about it looking like London – it reminded me of Preston! Thanks for linking up to #TravelAtHome. see you next month!

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    • Thanks for hosting! I will now think of doing a blog post with this link-up in mind, rather than just all the usual touristy stuff šŸ™‚ We are going to Madikwe in a few weeks time so that might be a good one – it’s a lesser-known game reserve that is only a few hours drive from Pretoria.

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  3. Great photos! Very interesting place. I love visiting and going places where there is such a mixture of people from different backgrounds and cultures. I think it reflects what the world is really like today. Thanks for posting!

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  4. Pingback: Show Your World Roundup 15: Malaysia, China, and South Africa - girl gone london

  5. This is fascinating – I never realised quite how multicultural Joburg was. I’ve visited Cape Town a couple of times, including a great tour of the townships, as well as Durban (briefly!) but only ever passed through the airport here. I love the idea of discovering it on a photography tour too. #citytripping

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    • I think a lot of people are surpised by this. But SA as a whole attracts a lot of people from all over Africa as it is still the “promised land” for many. This in itself causes tensions and racism just like we have in Europe. But it also means a lot of great food, restaurants and shops!

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  6. Great post. We were in Joburg for just one night a few years ago and didn’t venture into the city at all. I think we were a bit put off my the more colourful and scary tales of the city but great to hear it’s a lot better now and its image is changing. Thanks for linking to #citytripping xx

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