Susan Woolf’s taxi hand signs, South Africa’s 12th official language

Susan Woolf's Taxi Hand Signs Booklet

Susan Woolf’s Taxi Hand Signs Booklet

Every day thousands of hands stretch out along commuter routes across Gauteng speaking a silent language of taxi hand signs. The upraised index finger, indicating you are headed to town and the hand turned palm-side up, the fingers grasping an invisible fruit to signify your destination is Orange Farm, are read by minibus taxi drivers all the time and are the framework for a complex system of transport routes. Developed from necessity, and with ingenuity, this silent exchange of signs is the fundamental unit of communication for millions of minibus taxi commuters.  Continue reading

A sneak preview of Wits Art Museum

It’s taken 11 days but I am officially ready to start 2012. It’s a Joburg thing – from December to January the city’s heartbeat slows, in preparation for the crazy pace that will follow for the next 11 months. (If we are going to end the year by throwing fridges out of high-rises some contemplative time will be necessary)

This year will be no different (talking pace here). I have been hearing some interesting plans for the city, talk of a Museum of African Design, whispers about another of African Art (housing an extensive private collection) and the one I am more familiar with, the Wits Art Museum. WAM is a 10-year work in progress that once completed will not only add another notch to Braamfontein’s visitor belt it will transform the art landscape of the city.

The view from inside Wits Art Museum


Continue reading

Waking up in Braamfontein – Hotel Lamunu and the NeighbourGoods Market

I’m calling it. All that energy and moolah invested in Braamfontein got a little closer to paying off this morning with the opening of Cape Town’s favourite Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. But before I talk about that let’s rewind… The week stared with an invitation from Southpoint Hospitality for an overnight stay at its Hotel Lamunu in Braamfontein. The plan was to spend the night at the hotel, with drinks at the bar, dinner at Ramen, breakfast at the hotel followed by coffee at Velo in The Grove Square (on Melle Street) opposite the hotel and finally… a visit to opening day of the Neighbourgoods market (one of my favourite Cape Town haunts).


Continue reading

See SA’s newest fossil find at the Origins Centre

#198 Sign up for FiftyTwo: Weekly things to do and see in Joburg ©, an email newsletter – by a fellow Joburg enthusiast – that is fast becoming one of my favourite pieces of weekly correspondence. So much so that I am sharing this week’s missive from Adrian at Fifty Two. (To get yours mail him on adrian@fiftytwo.co.za) I am also sharing it because Origins Centre is one of my favourite spots in the city – the home of the largest collection of Rock Art in the world and a museum that showcases the origins of humankind in a way that is accessible, enagaging and highly interactive. Definitely a must-visit Joburg destination. Continue reading

Braamfontein is Joburg’s Soho

194#. Read the New York Times on Braamfontein. The paper of record has called it. Braamfontein is Joburg’s version of New York’s Soho. It has urban edge, lots of design and artistic talent, and a property developer with a real eye for the city’s future. Personally I have always been fond of that neighbourhood, from student days in the early 1990s when I would spend most of my cash (and there wasn’t much of it) at the bookshop on the corner where the Braamfontein Centre now stands (looking back it was literature of the revolution – lots of Fanon, Cabral, Biko. Okay admittedly those were books that real revolutionaries would steal so this is a revealing moment) to cheap and tasty lunches at the Health Scene and a great little Italian joint whose name I don’t recall but whose veal limone I do. Continue reading

Why coffee is the key to urban renewal

#158. Go for a city walk. With the John Moffat Building at Wits University celebrating 50 years of being, today was declared a “Grand Day of [architectural] Celebrations”. So we joined the small crowd at the University for an urban walking tour taking in 40 of Joburg’s best historic buildings.
The route started at Brickfields, the social housing development that has transformed Newtown, bringing in high-volume residential accommodation that can sustain all the amenities that make city life worth living – coffee shops, a book shop, art galleries and restaurants. From there we crossed to the Market Theatre (once the Indian fruit market but that was in the the 1930s) to stand in Mary Fitzgerald Square and take in the view of Museum Africa on one side and one of the city’s hostel compounds for its mineworkers (now the Worker’s Museum) that was built in the late 1800s. Then this place was a crazy tented camp town that probably (to my mind anyway) looked and felt a lot like Deadwood Continue reading

Remembering David Webster

#105. Mark May Day. Under leaden skies we drove to Troyeville to Bloemenhof Park for a view of the city’s past and its future. From the park you can see the Johannesburg Athletics Stadium and the massive upgrading of the Doornfontein area where one of South Africa’s premier Soccer World Cup 2010 stadiums – Ellis Park – is located.  Just a few blocks from there marks the spot on Eleanor Street where David Webster, anthropologist, humanitarian, and anti-apartheid activist was murdered for his beliefs. Today the park was renamed as a tribute to his life and memory.

Twenty years ago today South Africa was in the grip of a State of Emergency Continue reading

The elusive metropolis that is Joburg

#85. Look for the city. I spent Tuesday night listening to William Kentridge and Nadine Gordimer talk about the “elusive metropolis” that is Johannesburg. SA’s best known contemporary artist and our Nobel-prizewinning author, both denizens of this city, appeared at Wiser (the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) to launch a collection of essays, research and thoughts on Johannesburg, co-edited by Sarah Nuttall and Achille Mbembe.

That this city seems to constantly slip out of one’s grasp was a persistent theme. It’s something I thought about on Saturday afternoon at the Zoo Lake as I watched a crowd of picnickers turn violent Continue reading