Photo Essay of Johannesburg, South Africa: 'a world class African city'

Joburg's Central Business District has the most dense collection of skyscrapers in Africa

Johannesburg. Joburg. Jozi. Joziburg. Whatever you call this city, it had me at hello.

Let’s face it, Johannesburg doesn’t have the best reputation. When you tell people you’re moving here they fear for your safety and question your judgment. And though most tourists arrive in South Africa via Joburg, they quickly move on to other destinations. They are missing out! This city has so much to offer residents and tourists alike. 

The reality of Joburg defies perceptions. After a traumatic history under apartheid and urban decay in the 1980s and 1990s, Joburg is experiencing an amazing rebirth. There is a unique and vibrant atmosphere here, an energy I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

Jozi is making a comeback. And it's an exciting time to be here witnessing it.

Now I'm not saying there aren't problems, extreme wealth inequality being the biggest. But if there's any place in Africa that can create a middle-class and lift people out of poverty, it's Joburg--the economic capital of both South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Hopefully, the city that promotes itself as 'a world class African city' can lead the way.

Main Street walkway in the Central Business District where some of the world's largest mining companies are headquartered. You can see the lower half of the Carlton Center here, the tallest building in Africa.

"Impala Stampede" donated to the city in 1960 by Harry Oppenheimer. The sculpture was vandalized in the 1990s and the impala heads were cut off for scrap metal when the city was in decline. The heads have been replaced and the sculpture was restored in 2002.

Gandhi Square where Joburg's first court stood and Gandhi first appeared as a lawyer. He was later sentenced to imprisonment for his political activism here as well.

Across the street from Chancellor House is a new statue waiting to be unveiled this month. Rumor has it that it's Nelson Mandela boxing. Chancellor House, which housed Mandela and Oliver Tambo's law firm, was recently restored into a visitor's center and museum.

View from a Rea Vaya bus stop. The new bus system opened just before Joburg hosted the 2010 World Cup. Rea Vaya means “we are going” in the Sotho language.

Braamfontein street corner.

Friendly people in Yeoville.

Hillbrow signage and security.

Public art in Soweto honoring the student protests in 1976 where Hector Pieterson and hundreds of others were killed.

Ponte City is another example of Joburg's renewal. It used to be a middle-class apartment complex before the city's decline when gangs and drug dealers moved in...

The building has been renovated and now has desirable apartments again.

In the heart of Hillbrow, Joburg's toughest neighborhood.

Rent-a-Wreck, where I rented my wreck of a car. It only broke down once this month. Not bad.

Student hang-out spot in Braamfontein, an inner-city neighborhood where government and businesses focused on urban renewal projects. Braamfontein is now a corporate, education, and entertainment hub.

Market on Main in the Maboneng Precinct offers delicious food and cocktails, hip shops, art exhibits, and afternoon dancing. A great way to spend a Sunday in the city.

Street guitar lessons in Maboneng.

The development of the Maboneng Precinct began with Arts on Main, a creative center dedicated to galleries, artist studios, and office space.

The Living Room is a health food restaurant on a rooftop in Maboneng.

The Living Room hosts Sunday events after the Market on Main closes, complete with good music and a cool crowd.

The view from Maboneng.

Salsa dancing in Melville, a suburb where shops, restaurants, and bars line the streets unlike the Northern suburbs where they tend to be found in enclosed malls.

Afrobeat music in Newtown.

Rooftop show, downtown Jozi with BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) from Soweto.

Joburg is a vast urban forest with over 10 million trees. They say it's the largest man-made forest in the world.

My sentiments exactly.

My next blog will look at Kiva's work to alleviate poverty in Joburg. Please check back!

About the author

Michelle Schenck

As Portfolio Manager for Anglophone Africa, Michelle is responsible for oversight and expansion of Kiva's partnerships in eastern and southern Africa. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, she began working at Kiva in 2013 after completing a Kiva Fellowship in South Africa and Zambia. Michelle developed a passion for Africa right out of college as a volunteer with the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda. She went on to conduct graduate research in Gabon with the Wildlife Conservation Society and teach African geography courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to Kiva, Michelle also spent four years working in financial operations and compliance at Nakoma Capital Management. She holds a Master's degree in Geography and African Studies and a Bachelor's degree in Zoology and Conservation Biology from UW-Madison.