While the world is applauding South African gentrified neighbourhoods like Jozi’s Maboneng and Woodstock in Cape Town, historical spaces aren’t taking a back seat.
In Johannesburg, on-foot city tours are popular leisure activities allowing people complete urban emersion in a guided way. Two weeks ago The Market Theatre launched their brand new tour through its Newtown precinct.
It joins a few established tours that focus the lens on alternative spaces, sometimes underexplored areas with a rich history and an unfortunate reputation.
The joy of these tours is that the history, combined with the modern-day use of the city, creates an exciting experience where you don’t need artisanal coffee to make it better. These tours are unapologetic, some gritty – but all important. Here’s the rundown of not-to-be-missed excursions in the City of Gold.
THE MARKET THEATRE AND MARKET SQUARE
The Market Theatre’s history goes back a long time. The Edwardian structure, once a market known as the Old Indian Market or simply Newtown Market opened as a theatre in 1976 (the same week as the Soweto uprisings).
The market’s cathedral-like dome was turned into three new theatres by, most famously, Mannie Manim and Barney Simon. The theatre has since been one of the most influential performance spaces in South Africa, even the world.
The anti-apartheid stance of productions, as well as it’s political agenda and fearless inclusiveness, has made The Market Theatre a beacon of hope in our then downtrodden society. The new tour highlights its history, but also shifts focus to its future.
The newly built Market Square has brought an interesting dynamic to the arts hub in Newtown. Apart from its award-winning architecture and the superb design, the new building is a multifaceted space for blooming creatives.
Classrooms, rehearsal space, offices, boardrooms and an art gallery all form part of a creative heartbeat.
The square, just across the road from the theatre complex and adjacent to Mary Fitzgerald Square, is a campus for students at the Market Theatre Laboratory and Market Photo Workshop. During the tour, you’re more than likely to run into a few students – glowing from a dance class or merely scurrying to their next lesson.
The guided tour is also presented and narrated by Busi Letwaba, a Market Theatre graduate. While the tour points out architecture and features that come from the theatre complex’s day as a market, there’s a rich history in every room.
Letwaba gives a passionate delivery on every subject, and it’s rare to visit famous spaces such as the Dr John Kani Theatre or the Mannie Manim Theatre (previously know as the Laager Theatre) without the buzz of a show night crowd.
The simple beauty of these performance spaces, so bare, again shows you how important it is to support every production at the Market Theatre. Parts of Newtown, such as Kippies Bar, is also included in the tour. These tours cost only R20. For more info visit www.markettheatre.co.za
Hailed as originating inner-city tours through Joburg in its modern day context, Past Experiences offers a variety of tours. While some focus on graffiti, others focus on architecture, food or shopping.
There’s a variety of price points, meaning it’s accessible to a range of Living Standards Measures. I joined a budget-friendly graffiti tour and the walkabout certainly gave me a new-found interest in wall art around the city. While London has unpredictable artists such as Banksy, Johannesburg is home to an eclectic mix of artists who give a variety of social messages. Tours are also cater-made and change often – so it’s worthwhile following Past Experiences to see what they have coming up. On my tour day, everything ended at an art gallery opening, where we could drink free box wine and enjoy some impressive artwork.Prices on tours change, but check out their website for some pretty interesting experiences pastexperiences.co.za