A once-neglected corner of Johannesburg’s eastern industrial heartland, Maboneng (Sotho for “place of light”) or Jeppestown as it was commonly known, has been part of an inside-out transformation that started in 2009. There are two sides to the coin as suburbs gentrify, but locals have welcomed development — at the very least those who are after well-made R25 cappuccinos. Time will tell if the people living in the surrounding impoverished blocks will also see the fruits of this urbanization too. From modernized apartment complexes to boutiques, delis and art galleries, Maboneng attracts a varied crowd, especially over weekends. Here are nine cool things to do in Maboneng.
1. Market on Main
Probably the most popular and most visited part of the revitalized precinct is the weekend food market that carries amongst the usual food offerings Jamaican barbecued meat, Ethiopian staples, craft beers, cakes, dim sum and more. Outside, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony is conducted with great attention to detail, as bowls of popped corn are passed around and the dark brew is prepared. Art galleries open out into the courtyard.
2. iwasshot in Joburg
This project provides street children with disposable cameras and allows them to capture their stories on film. This is then converted into art that is sold at a permanent gallery at the Arts on Main market. Their motto states: “from the streets of Joburg to the streets of the world.”
Jo Buitendach, an archeologist and Johannesburg inner city specialist guide, picks iwasshot as one of her favorite Maboneng spots.
“Their studio and shop are fantastic! They have amazing photography on sale and it is a worthy NGO,” she says.
3. Main Street Bazaar
Heather Mason (of the 2Summers blog), a prolific Joburg ambassador, shares one of her favourite lesser known spots: “The bazaar is an empty warehouse space that has been filled with storage containers rented out by local artisans and small business people. You can shop for jewelry, locally made clothing and art, and have coffee at the coffee bar in the middle of the space. There is also a hair salon and an Internet café. It’s so cool but kind of hidden away and not well advertised.” The bazaar is located on Main Street between Maritzburg and Kruger Streets.
4. Curiocity Backpackers
This vibrant inner-city hostel offers a unique insight into local culture and is the scene of some of the coolest parties and games in town. Live music and cheap beers make it popular with a younger crowd.
5. Uncle Merv’s
A purveyor of sidewalk smoothies, good coffee and bite-sized bites for the urbanite on the go, they say. Musician Kelly Grevler who moved to Maboneng two years ago, says the neighbourhood has “grown from strength to strength.” Her top pick is Uncle Merv’s.
“What I love is the amount of new, interesting people I meet there. There’s always a conversation to join.”
Uncle Merv’s is located at the corner of Fox and Kruger Streets.
6. Mr James’s Ethiopian Restaurant
Little Addis on Fox street is wildly popular for good reason. Heather Mason mentions that visitors should seek out the “other” Ethiopian restaurant, Mr James’s place, which serves a daily changing menu that is simpler but very tasty.
There’s no sign out yet, so you may need to look around a bit. Located at the corner of Commissioner and Maritzburg Streets.
7. Zebra Inn
The bar, an old hunting club evident from the heads mounted on the walls, has been in existence for years. Situated just outside the Maboneng precinct, the cool set have only just discovered it. Vibey monthly parties add to the allure. Address: 252 Albertina Sisulu Street.
8. The Bioscope
Located on the ground floor of Main Street Life, this 68-seat cinema showcases local and international independent film and has become an important space for talks and discourse about topical or controversial matters. Craft beers and pizzas are sold next door at Chalkboard. Address: 286 Fox Street.
9. Madiba Mural
Ricky Lee Gordan (Freddy Sam), street artist and activist, was commissioned by the precinct to paint the mural of Madiba as a gift to the city. Inspired by the Bob Gosani image of Madiba boxing on a Joburg rooftop, the 40-meter-tall mural is dedicated to the great man’s belief in ubuntu: “I am because we are.”
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This article was originally published on July 10, 2014.