Johannesburg - Well do I remember the first time I ventured down the M1 South for a job interview in the inner city.
These were pre-GPS times, and I was left in a mild panic after trying to navigate through all the one-way streets and the taxis and pedestrians competing for their share of the pavement. Since then, the CBD has undergone a transformation.
While many Joburgers still keep their distance from the big bad inner city, others flock to the eastern CBD to visit Maboneng – Sotho for “place of light”.
Established in 2008, the precinct started with just one building, Arts on Main, a converted early-1900s warehouse which has since become a cultural hub known for its mix of restaurants, galleries and shops.
Following this, Main Street Life was born, an urban living complex with a rooftop boxing gym, restaurant, hotel and bar. The Bioscope Independent Cinema resides here – a 68-seat independent cinema aiming to increase the diversity of content. Open 7 days a week, you can expect to find anything from art house classics to animation.
The 12 Decades hotel, on the 7th floor of Main Street Life, is a tribute to the rich history of Joburg and features rooms conceptualised by some of South Africa’s top artists and designers, including Love Jozi and Black Coffee.
Maboneng is the brainchild of 29-year-old Jonathan Liebmann, founder of property developers Propertuity, whose passion for urban renewal is almost tangible. He walks the talk by living in the precinct and is focused on changing the way Joburgers think of and interact with the city centre. He bought his first property when he was 24, and hasn’t looked back.
Maboneng’s popularity has skyrocketed in the past year, with the launch of its key drawcard – the Market on Main, which runs every Sunday from 10am–3pm and the first Thursday of each month from 7pm–11pm. This is a food and design market, where stallholders display their produce, with the emphasis on local production.
Markets seem to have become the trendy thing to do on weekends where everyone from pierced and tattooed hippies to high-heeled, fake-eyelash-wearing “it” girls brave the downtown streets on foot.
There is no parkade in the precinct so you’ll have to park on the road, but with self-employed security guards on every corner and swarms of people, there is enough action to make you feel safe.
You can taste Jozi’s finest, including Indian curries, fish and chips and boerie rolls. If you’d prefer to do your tasting at home, there are many vendors selling artisanal breads, cheeses and pickles.
Arrive at the market hungry and start with some crispy Asian spring rolls, then move on to the Mexican stall for some cheesy nachos with salsa, and finally head to one of the plentiful cake stalls for a brownie or a red velvet cupcake.
Wash that all down with some fine, raw hot chocolate.
Once you’re done, indulge in some retail therapy. The upper deck of the market offers fashionable South African clothing.
If you’d like to make a day out of it, visit The Main Change – a building in the precinct offering a holistic spa and healing centre (Cocoon in the City), a health food rooftop café (The Living Room), and a selection of fashion and furniture stores on the ground floor.
Cocoon boasts the first infrared, bamboo-floored yoga studio in the country – designed to help people work deeper into positions.
When yoga classes are not happening, the studio is used for massages and other beauty treatments. Lastly, they offer a revolutionary approach to healthcare done by a registered GP, integrating science and the wisdom of authentic healing systems.
Open is another great spot within the Main Change. This is a collaborative city workspace, where members can rent a daily or monthly space which includes everything needed to run an office – a desk, WiFi, printers and boardrooms at your disposal. There’s even an indoor putt-putt course and a gourmet coffee bar.
Maboneng has helped build a community, one where you’ll fit right in – regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what you stand for.
It has also opened doors for fledgling entrepreneurs – there are countless success stories stemming from the precinct, from the guy who went to sushi school and started Blackanese, a hip sushi and wine bar, to the girls from The Counter who have a stall at the market and are now making plans to open a shop.
The inner city rejuvenation has only just begun – 25 buildings still need to be developed as part of the Maboneng Precinct.
If you’re still eating breakfast in some Northern Joburg mall on a Sunday morning, you might just be on your own soon.