For those of you who may not be on my Instagram, greetings from Johannesburg! On Friday evening I left the UK for the sunny shores of South Africa. When wifi and adrenaline are aplenty to keep me going, I aim to update you on my travels in the next week which will take me around Johannesburg and Cape Town.
We arrived in Johannesburg at 10.30, a little weary and in desperate need of a few hours of rest. At least my fellow UK journalist Richard Dowden and I were lucky to have enjoyed endured a 10-hour flight as opposed to Peter Mellarg and Ngozi Onuoha who had set off from New York eight hours before to connect in London for Jo-burg and our Chinese colleagues Wu Ningning and Wang Yu who had a total flight time of 16 hours, connecting in Singapore. We met the Cape Town based fellow journalist John Allen and our host Sandisiwe Gugushe at the airport.
Our home for the time we will be spending in Johannesburg, Hyatt Regency Johannesburg is located in Rosebank, a bustling district about half an hour drive away from the O.R. Tambo Airport in Kempton Park. For those who would like to try out the rail link, Gautrain, it is only a 15-minute ride to Rosebank station. Another 15 minutes and you’re in Pretoria, in the northern part of the Gauteng Province. While the rules seem draconian, – eating is not permitted on the shiny new trains, and neither is chewing gum, we are told the trains are popular amongst commuters.
Driving down Albertina Sisulu Highway, the earlier R24 renamed in 2013 after the “Mother of the Nation”, political activist and nurse and one of the most important leaders of anti-Apartheid resistance in South Africa as well as wife of fellow activist Walter Sisulu (1912-2003), we can’t help but notice the election posters urging the nation to vote. With elections only a little over a month away, party leaders are particularly keen to engage with the disenfranchised youth urging them to cast their vote.
Shortly after arriving at Hyatt Regency, we disperse, all keen to get some rest before our jam-packed itinerary kicks off later on day 1 with dinner and a fly-by visit to Mercedes Benz African Fashion International.
My room on the seventh floor is sizable with a lovely view of Rosebank skyline and the double bed looks inviting as the bathroom snazzy, but my first stop has to be, as a Sinem rule of thumb, the hotel swimming pool.
Phumula Spa located on the sixth floor is a lovely sanctuary decorated in warm orange and fresh green, housing the treatment rooms, the fitness centre and the outdoor swimming pool overlooking the Rosebank district. With one other hotel guest lounging at the other end, I have got the pool all to myself.
After a quick shower, I am off to the Rosebank Mall. While the building still looks as if it is under construction with some escalators out of services and some of the retail spaces going under renovation (which I am later told has been the case for a while) the mall offers a range of retail options from makeup to fashion to books. That’s not all though. There is also a cinema on the ground floor and a crafts market further ahead. I later find out saying “I am going to see a movie at Rosebank” makes one sound quite the culture vulture, so I am tempted to try this one with my Jo’burg based friends.
At 6.30 we are all dressed in glad rags to hit Sandton for dinner. At 7pm, Nelson Mandela Square is buzzing and Saturday evening dinner and fun seem to be in full swing. A European styled piazza with its sidewalk cafes and restaurants blended with African hospitality and warmth creates a cool urban space for Johannesburgers and tourists alike.
Naturally, much like everyone else, our first stop is the towering 6mt. statue of the much celebrated son of Africa, Nelson Mandela. Not a single second goes by without yet another excited soul poses by Madiba’s leg flashing a smile as bright as the world icon’s famed smile now eternalised in bronze.
Once we take our pictures, we realise we are spoilt for choice when it comes to food and after much deliberation, opt for The Butcher Shop and Grill, the home of the superlative “mature aged meat” where meat is hung in carcass for up to 3 days, thereafter the rump, sirloin, fillet, rib-eye, T-bone and prime rib are aged for approximately 21 – 40days. The decor with heavy wooden panelled walls and green leather look chairs is reminiscent of an olde worlde pub decor – down-to-earth and cosy. Sandisiwe tells us that people from all walks of Jo’burg life can dine at this venue, and it does indeed make a good people-watching spot.
I opt for grilled calamari for my starter which was absolutely delicious. While I absolutely enjoy slow roasted lamb for my main served with a side of vegetables and mash, I am secretly eying Ngozi’s Surf’n’Turf – a humongous plate of steak served with chips and three medium Tiger prawns.
Fine dining al fresco means we miss the penultimate show and make it fashionable late to the final show of African Fashion International Johannesburg. I am gutted that we only have standing tickets but the fact that it is the last show and quite a number of people are off into the night means we manage to get seats.
Fabiani serves sharp British tailoring blended with dandy chic on a backdrop of small town streets and a paperboy cycling and lobbing rolled up promo ‘newspapers’ into an excited fashion crowd. Models carry on in the same vein, fitted blazers, prints, baker boy caps are served with an occasional side of a rolled paper thrown into the audience as fashionistas reach out to catch. All too soon the show is over and we are whisked around the venue by the PR team. While we do not get to congratulate Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe on yet another amazing event, I get to finally catch up with the creative producer extra-ordinaire Deon Redman whom I met back in 2011 in Nigeria.
All too soon – or perhaps not soon enough – our first day in Johannesburg is over and is off to bed with excitement building up for a day out in Soweto. I go to bed humming “Soweto Blues” and looking forward to the famed Johannesburg township dreams, nightmares, history are made of.