Ponte Tower – A Tale of Glamour, Garbage and Gritty Regeneration

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Ponte Tower

Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower is infamous, notorious and really really interesting.  It embodies the former decadence, ensuing decay and current regeneration of the City of Gold.  It’s a brutalist, concrete hollow cylinder of a building in the city’s Central Business District (CBD).  The tallest residential building in Africa, it rises 55 stories tall and along with the Telkom tower is an instantly recognisable feature of Joburg CBD’s skyline.

Glamour: Ponte started life in the mid 1970’s as luxury real estate dubbed the ‘Vegas of Africa’, where the plushest apartments spanned three floors and had built in jacuzzis.  To see a smattering of photos from those bygone I only found this one article: Buildings are Geological Agents. There are only a couple of images and you have to scroll most of the way down through the post.

Garbage: When decay set in and the original hipster residents moved out, the empty buildings were broken into and hijacked. Ponte became a complete no-go zone.  It was an overcrowded den of iniquity with a direly severe rubbish problem in the 90’s.   There was no running water, no electricity and when the rubbish collections stopped, residents would lob their waste into the central void.  Unfortunately, there it stayed until it rose a festering 14 stories high (or 2 or 3 or 5 – I’ve read different things and I’m not sure which is factually correct, but 14 is the number given by our guide on the day).  Ponte was a slum in the sky.

Gritty Regeneration: In recent years, Ponte has changed again.  The illegal tenants evicted, the rubbish has gone and the building has been refurbished to a good standard and is now home to a mixture of families, students, working and middle class residents.  It is possible to tour both the inside (marvelling at the views from the top) and the eerie core with a circle of sky high above.   Continue reading

Discover Johannesburg’s Top Hikes

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Hedianga Hike 15km – “We love hiking with dogs.”                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Becci Monge

For a city as gritty as Johannesburg, you might be surprised to find out just how many fab hiking spots there are in and around it.  My friend, American expat Becci Monge has kindly written a guest post with her top local hiking picks.

Becci got hooked on hiking last year when she decided (and by the way successfully succeeded – enormous kudos to you Becci and the rest of the Jo’burg based She-Trek team) to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. In preparation for Kili, the She-Trekkers explored (and continue to explore) the best hiking spots on offer in our local area.

Over to Becci: Continue reading

Scorpion on the Line

 

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Did you ever hear the story about Thomas the Tank Engine and the scorpion?  It’s got a sting in the tail.

This is a passenger announcement.  Regular blog services are running late.  Normal service has been severely disrupted by The Christmas Holidays…and a scorpion on the line.

Regular service will resume shortly.

In the meantime, just incase you missed them the first time around, the most popular 5 posts on Expatorama in 2016 were:

  1.  Why Expats are Like Dung Beetles
  2.  The Escape Room Phenomenon hits South Africa
  3.  10 Things I’ve learned from running and Expat Facebook Group
  4.  Ladies who Lunch
  5.  Which School? An Expat Parenting Dilemma

 

The scorpion has now thankfully left the building and I’m busy working on some brand new posts for 2017.

We Four Expats Travel Afar

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Happy Christmas – Here’s a little Expat Christmas Ditty to the tune of We Three Kings….  

 

We four Expats travel afar

Metro, funicular, airplane, car

Veldt and fountain, fynbos and mountain

Always seeking the next bright star

Continue reading

Johannesburg’s CBD – Crime, Burglary and Decay or Culture, Business and Delight?

Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) was once the heart of gold rush pioneer town Johannesburg.  This is where  all the biggest, best and most beautiful buildings were built.  Many years later, after first the rise and then fall of apartheid this area deteriorated significantly.  Residents and businesses moved out in droves as buildings were hijacked quickly becoming overcrowded with squatters.  The area became a dangerous and crime ridden no-go zone in the 1990’s.

 

But what’s it like today?  I joined an inner city walking tour to find out more. Continue reading

Thokozani: A Happy Place

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There is a great deal of poverty in South Africa and some expats choose to use their time here to do what they can to contribute to improving and empowering local communities through a variety of volunteer programs, fundraisers and initiatives.  All in all there are some fantastic expat projects going on. Today’s guest post is written by expat Mona Brantley with input from Annabel Newell. Mona currently heads up the Friends of Diepsloot volunteer team that has invested an enormous amount of time and love in Thokozani Preschool over the last few years to great effect.  Over to Mona…..

Where is your happy place? Have you found a place in your current location that makes you smile, where only good memories are made? For me and many other Joburg expats that happy place literally is Thokozani (a Zulu word for “a place or state of happiness”).

Four years ago, in April of 2012, Laurence Braeckman, a Belgian expat, went into Diespsloot township to look at schools, day cares, and preschools. When she discovered Gogo and Thokozani, she knew she had found her happy place.

Gogo (Zulu for grandmother because no one calls her by her name Miss Lizah) had already been running Thokozani for six years, primarily as a day care and a place of safety for the very young children of Diepsloot.

The facilities then were very basic. They were making food for 200 kids on a two gas hob cooker in a kitchen that doubled as the office. The children sat and ate on the floor. They practiced writing letters on the backs of their classmates. The classrooms were little more than shacks: hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The food, though made with love and care, was not nutritious enough for growing children. While the kids were safe and in a loving environment, so much more could be done, and Laurence and her cohorts set to work. Continue reading

10 Things I’ve learned from running an Expat Facebook Group

I am THAT woman.  I don’t know how it happened, but I am the mug that runs our local expat Facebook group.  I assumed there would be one (an expat Facebook group, not a mug) when I arrived in Johannesburg.  After all, I’m sure every major city has had at least one of these groups for ages.  I searched for it before I arrived, I asked around when I got here.  I got tumbleweed.  So eventually, I stepped up to the plate and set one up.  It took all of 10 minutes to pick a name, write a description, add a photo, select the settings and add a few friends.  I think I started off with about 10 people.

On the back of the initial 10 minutes that I invested, not much happened for the first couple of weeks.  Then a lot happened.  It’s become a bit of beast.  A much needed and generally much appreciated beast, but a beast nonetheless.

Here are 10 things I’ve learnt from running an expat Facebook group (and yes, there are links at the end of the post).

Continue reading

Mile High Living

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As established in the post Happy Expat Wife, Happy Expat Life, I’m rubbish at drawing.  Sweetpea has kindly contributed this doodle of a sunburnt zombie family waiting forever for their breakfast eggs (or brains) to boil.

There are a few quirks to mile high living.  I covered the zombie skin we get in Jo’burg’s crackling dry winter months in the post High Altitude, Dry Altitude, but there are are other things about life on the Highveld that you might be interested to know about. 

Dry Altitude

In addition to zombie skin, dehydration is something to watch out for. Unlike more humid climates where you find that your sweat glands have sweat glands, the dehydration here is stealthy. Because your sweat evaporates so effortlessly (rather than running down your back or into your eyes) you probably won’t realise how much moisture you’re losing. Dehydration IS very real though, so be sure to drink plenty of water, especially if you are enjoying any of the local wines or craft beers.  If you don’t, you will look AND feel like a zombie. Continue reading

Ladies who Lunch

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It’s what you think we expats spouses do all the time, isn’t it?  Go out for lunch and have a jolly old time. Well, yes, sometimes we do.  Here is a group photo of our international ladies social club taking a morning walking tour, followed by – you guessed it – lunch.  It took place on a weekday when our children were at school, our husbands at work and in many cases a house helper was doing the cleaning or ironing in our homes.  I know what you’re thinking….

It’s an easy life.  Perhaps when these ladies get home they will find that the electricity has gone off, or the water….or both.  Perhaps they are in the throes of packing up to move with uncertainty and upheaval ahead.  Some of their husbands have left the country already and have started new jobs in new locations.  The wives will pack up and follow in the coming weeks.

They are lucky to be going for a jolly morning out, rather than working.  They are lucky not to HAVE to work, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to work, it means that they are not allowed to work.  These ladies have degrees, professions and skills.  There is the qualified and experienced occupational therapist who is manically jumping through hoops trying to gain the South African equivalent qualifications, so that MAYBE she MIGHT be permitted to work for the few remaining months before she has to move again.

They’re all smiling and happy.  You can’t see this of course, but I know that they are smiling.  It was an enjoyable way to spend a morning. However, with every outing, there’s almost always a new lady.  She might be feeling really lonely, culture shocked and slightly terrified to be out in Johannesburg’s inner city for the first time.  From a distance she is part of the group.  Her hands are occupied with her camera prop and she paints on a smile and probably, by the end of lunch she will feel less lonely.   Continue reading

Walk on the Wild Side in Joburg

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Okay, so it’s more of an amble, lazy stroll or perhaps just a mooch on the wild side if I’m honest, but if you head on down to The Sheds at 1 Fox in Ferreirasdorp, Johannesburg, you can wander round the studio and admire the crème de la crème of 2015-2016’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.

The images are stunning and include battling bee eaters, ethereal insects, an army of soldier ants and surreal (and yet in actual fact real) landscapes.  Some images are mind bending and it can take a while for your brain to decode what you are seeing.  Other images are so beautifully and creatively composed that it’s humbling to realise that the very youngest photographers are only 10 years old.

It was blissfully quiet when we visited, presenting the opportunity to take our time and enjoy the exhibition.  Understandably, no photography is allowed inside the gallery space, so you’ll have to drop by in person to appreciate the skill, infinite patience, ingenuity and star aligning luck involved in capturing these amazing shots.

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There are a selection of glossy photography books, magnets and postcards for sale at the entrance.  Prints must be ordered from the Natural History Museum in London.  The exhibition runs until 31 August 2016, you can find out more HERE.