Discover Maboneng, City of Light – Johannesburg
“In 2007 I was living in a converted factory on the edge of the city. At that time the Jo’burg inner city was a no-go zone, crime ridden, filthy and all but forgotten. Certainly not the kind of place that property developers were thinking about! But at the age of 24, I had the energy and blind ambition to try something that many others wouldn’t – to bring the city back.”
– Jonathan Liebmann, CEO and Founder of Propertuity –
I visited Maboneng Precinct twice earlier this year; once for a graffiti tour, and once for a gin tasting, and I instantly fell for this part of Johannesburg, a city I once called home. When I told my husband of my plan to stay in Maboneng for a weekend, he was less than enthusiastic:
“You want to stay where?”
“But it is in the inner city?”
“So near Hillbrow, then.”
Needless to say, all he could think of was that the inner city is dangerous, and most definitely not a place for his wife to visit on her own. The conversation did not end there, but I did book my stay for three nights soon after, and although I suspect he had nightmares and sleepless nights in our apartment in Abu Dhabi, I had a wonderful time.
Today, ten years after the first collection of warehouses were converted, in what became Arts on Main, it still forms the corner stone of this vibrant neighbourhood, especially on a Sunday, when people flock to the weekly Market on Main.
Jonathan Liebmann’s dream of creating an integrated, mixed-use and mixed-income neighbourhood is starting to pay dividends, as more and more people from all walks of life and cultures are drawn to his vision of creating a community that embodies the spirit of the new South Africa. Even though Fox Street can be seen as the heart of Maboneng, which means ‘place of light’ in Sesotho, the neighbourhood is slowly growing one building, and one block at a time, and it is exciting to see how one man’s vision is creating a space and energy that draws other like-minded people to work, live, and play in an area, which was, until recently, an unsavoury part of the Johannesburg’s inner city. His property development company, Propertuity’s five development principles form the core of his vision: mixed income; mixed use; activated public space that views streets as an extension of the home; safety and upkeep; and high density.
The Maboneng Precinct is best explored on foot, and as it is small, it can easily be done in a small amount of time, but as it harbours many interesting nooks and crannies, it is best to slow down one’s pace, and look both up and down, and peek into all the little shops. Common Ground, the neighbourhood’s first public park, offers a quiet respite from the busy streets, and is also the venue for the monthly night market.
Eat & Drink
You will need much more than a day, or even a weekend to eat and drink your way around this neighbourhood. My favourite places around Maboneng include: Canteen, in the courtyard, behind the Arts on Main building, with its wooden tables and benches in the shade of young olive trees, is ideal for a leisurely lunch and a bottle of wine; Origin Coffee, on the corner of Arts on Main for the best coffee in the neighbourhood; Eat Your Heart Out serves an all-day breakfast and excellent fresh juice or Uncle Merv’s, if you just want to grab a coffee and croissant to take with you on your walk. Come hungry on a Sunday for the delicious food available at Market on Main from 10 am – 3 pm, or buy some to take home with you.
Another creative enterprise, which chose to align themselves with the vision and energy of Maboneng, is the craft distillery, Time Anchor. Owner, Shanna-Rae Wilby, is creating art in a bottle, and is a great example of the creative people, who flock to this area. Join one of their gin or rum tastings, which are both informative and fun, and leave with a couple of bottles of their limited edition drinks.
Art has been, from the beginning, a central focus of the development of the area, and Maboneng is filled with street art, which includes graffiti and commissioned public art installations, while there are also various formal art galleries, which include the Agog, and the Museum of African Design. The neighbourhood bustles with creativity; from the various stall holders, who sell their wares on the street to the many artists, who have studios in the area. There is also a performing arts centre (PopArt Theatre) and an independent cinema (The Bioscope).
Curiosity Backpackers and the 12 Decades Hotel are located in the centre of the neighbourhood in Fox street, whilst there is an assortment of Air B&B rentals in the area. On the edge of the neighbourhood, and connected to it via a free shuttle bus, which loops around it every 20-30 minutes from 7 am – 7 pm, Hallmark House Hotel is the newest addition to the accommodation options, and where I opted to stay on my most recent visit. Designed by David Adjaye, Hallmark House not only houses a hotel, but also apartments, a restaurant and bar (Hallmark Kitchen) and Loof Coffee in the lobby, as well as a jazz bar (Marabi Club) in its basement. The building is wrapped with private balconies and planters from which the green foliage will soon spill to provide an interesting contrast with its black exterior. The interior is a delightful mix of design elements, including industrial, modern and African touches, which creates a space that is comfortable and luxurious, whilst the long, black corridors provides an ideal exhibition space for various works of art. Excellent, fast Wi-Fi is available in all the rooms, and there is safe parking inside the building.
Advice on safety
A lot is being done to ensure the safety of both residents and visitors, and the people I encountered in the area were very friendly. There is a traditional medicine market just two blocks down from Maboneng, and on two separate occasions I heard two different locals advise people not to go there, unless accompanied by a local guide. As when travelling anywhere in the world, it is always best to use common sense, and heed the advice of people who work and live in an area. I felt very safe wandering around on my own, although I stuck to the Maboneng Precinct. One of the best ways to explore this area is to join a tour. Check out both Past Experiences, and the lovely people at Curiosity Backpackers for the tours they have on offer.
“We want to build an enlightened community that stands as an example of the South Africa envisioned by Nelson Mandela. A community based on freedom, integration, egalitarianism, innovation, inspiration.”
– Jonathan Liebmann –
Visited: August & October 2017