Derelict, Art Deco, Multicultural, Gigantism - Keywords from a tour through Hillbrow


A few days ago I went on a guided tour downtown Joburg in the areas of Hillbrow and Berea. Now, you might think "guided tour, really?" And yes, it felt strange. A group of 30 white people, in which 27 of them  were in their 70's and dressed in khakis (my friends and I being the only ones under retirement age) walking through the roughest neighborhood of downtown Joburg taking photos with their expensive cameras. Indeed very very strange.


4 guards joined the guided tour
 to keep the khaki-bunch safe

These areas were originally the most posh parts of Joburg where only the richest of the white people lived. Hillbrow is situated, as the name says, on a hill with a nice view of the rand of the gold mines -the steroid on which this African metropole has been build. In Hillbrow one can find typical Art Deco houses side by side with gigantic living-machines, the 54 stories high Ponte tower and the once so fashionable "see and be seen" place Windybrow theatre, once home of Theodore Reunert a romantic Bavarian-styled mansion which is now part of a theatre complex.

Windybrow theatre
I chatted to one of the elderly ladies in our group who told me that she actually grew up in Hillbrow. Today, that seems almost to strange to be true. Hillbrow version 2011 is far from the Mayfair like (that's the expression the guide used) 'whites only' area it used to be. Due to poor planning, its infrastructure could not cope with the rapid population growth. This, together with lack of investment led to an exodus of middle class residents in the 1980s and the decay of major buildings, leaving in its wake an urban slum by the 1990s. Today most of the residents are immigrants from different parts of Africa. One of my South African friends told me that "you won't see a South African living in Hillbrow any longer". I don't know if that is all true, but one can surely feel the multi ethnic atmosphere.
Gigantism 1


 Gigantism 2: Built in 1975 to a height of 173 metres (54 floors),
the Ponte tower is the tallest residential skyscraper in the southern hemisphere.

Gigantism 3, this building is called Highrise

Curious kids in Hillbrow


There is actual a lot of public art in Hillbrow.
This piece is symbolizing a waterfall that was once at this spot