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Jo’s Joburg: Interview with our Johannesburg Guide and City Expert

Johannesburg is one of South Africa’s most rapidly developing cities, and the inner city is undergoing an exciting regeneration process. We spoke to tour guide Jo to find out more.

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What is it about Joburg that so appeals to you?

Wow – this could take a while. I am incredibly passionate about Johannesburg, particularly the Inner City (some call it passion – I call it obsession): I love the city, its vibe, people and communities, turbulent history, its public art, graffiti and the fact that it is an African city, something which I think we should really be proud of and celebrate.

What initially drew you to guiding?

After I had finished my honours degree, I knew I wanted to work with people and I have always been interested in taking academic knowledge and presenting it to the public in a fun, factual way.  Guiding is like performing, you have a few hours to make a tour amazing and to influence people’s perceptions of a place- which is really, really important in the case of the Joburg Inner City which has had a really bad reputation for the last couple of decades. Each person or group will then leave and hopefully tell people how great the Joburg City is.

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The city is fast undergoing a redevelopment. Tell us about what’s changing.

There is a lot more confidence and investment in the Inner City, which is bringing about a lot more business, interest and tourism. The government, as well as private investment, is making a huge impact on the city. There are a number of areas that are leading the regeneration – Braamfontein is a good example as it has a mix of different investors. The city has also had a huge injection of public art as part of the regeneration process, which is amazing and really exciting.

What’s your favourite district of Joburg – and why?

The city is made up of so many districts, each special in their own way.

In terms of fantastic history and a close-knit community, Ferreirasdorp is my favourite area. It is an older migrant area specialising in traditional African culture – beautiful fabrics, blankets, and having worked in the area for the last five years we have made so many friends who welcome us into their shops and lives. The area also has a fascinating history, particularly in terms of the anti-apartheid movement. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo ran South Africa’s first black law firm in the area.

I also love Newtown because of its public art, street art and graffiti, which brings fantastic colour to the Inner City.

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How does your impressive list of qualifications make you a better guide?

Firstly I think constant research, presentation skills and making sure your customer is happy make a great guide. That said my background has helped me understand the city and its people in a different way. I have a degree in archaeology, which teaches you to really respect and value culture, and also to look at people and their material culture in an anthropological way. It has also made me really value and love African culture.

What would you suggest people do with 24 hours in Joburg?

A walking tour with me…obviously (perhaps checking out the public art and graffiti); a visit to and lunch at the Neighbourgoods Market (yummy artisanal goods in a market atmosphere); dinner in Fordsburg (an Indian area in the Inner City – I love a sugarbean bunnychow); ending with partying the night away in Braamfontein at Kitcheners or Great Dane.

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How do you like to spend your leisure time in Joburg?

I love exploring the Inner City (even on my days off!) so I often check old buildings out, look for new graffiti, or do a little shopping; my partner Justin and I are currently fixing up our house so we spend a lot of time at antique and junk shops looking for anything retro from the 1960s and 1970s. We also walk our dog Digi at the Emmerentia Dam most weekends. And of course, a little bit of a party at Great Dane or Kitcheners with friends.

Favourite Joburg personality (past or present)?

It’s got to be a strong woman who had an impact on Jozi, so it’s Albertina Sisulu, anti-apartheid activist. She was involved in many important events (including the Freedom Charter in 1955) and many people say her and her husband Walter’s love story is the greatest love story South Africa has ever had.

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What part of the city’s history fascinates you the most?

I love migrant communities and their history; Ferreirasdorp is home to one of the city’s original Indian communities.

Of the tours you offer, which are your favourite to run?

I love doing the graffiti tours, public art tours and shopping tours. They are all walking tours and aim to show people a different layer of the city, get people interacting with local communities and hopefully change any negative perceptions about the Jozi Inner City.

Call or email us to find out more about South Africa and booking a Johannesburg tour with Jo as your guide.