While the world is applauding South Africa’s gentrified neighbourhoods, like Jozi’s Maboneng and Woodstock in Cape Town, historical spaces aren’t taking a back seat.
In Johannesburg, on-foot city tours are popular leisure activities. The joy of these tours is that the history, combined with the modern-day use of the city, creates an exciting experience where you don’t need artisanal coffee to make it better.
The Market Theatre and Market Square
The Market Theatre’s history goes back a long time.
The Edwardian structure, once a market known as the Old Indian Market or simply Newtown Market, opened as a theatre in 1976 (the same week as the Soweto uprisings).
Its cathedral-like dome was turned into three new theatres by, most famously, Mannie Manim and Barney Simon. It has since been one of the most influential performance spaces in SA.
The anti-apartheid stance of productions as well as its political agenda and fearless inclusiveness made the Market Theatre a beacon of hope in a then downtrodden society.
The tour highlights its history, but also shifts focus to its future.
The newly built Market Square has brought an interesting dynamic to the arts hub in Newtown. Apart from its award-winning architecture and superb design, the new building is a multifaceted space for blooming creatives. Classrooms, rehearsal spaces, offices, boardrooms and an art gallery all form part of its creative heartbeat.
The square, just across the road from the theatre complex and adjacent to Mary Fitzgerald Square, is a campus for students at the Market Theatre laboratory and market photo workshop. During the tour, you’ll run into a few students – glowing from a dance class or scurrying to their next lesson.
While the tour points out architecture and features that come from the theatre complex’s days as a market, there’s a rich history in every room.
Guides give a passionate delivery on every subject and it’s rare to visit famous spaces such as the Dr John Kani Theatre or the Mannie Manim Theatre (previously known as the Laager Theatre) without the buzz of a show night crowd.
The simple beauty of these performance spaces, so bare, again shows you how important it is to support every production at the Market Theatre.
Other parts of Newtown, such as Kippies Bar, are also included in the tour. These tours cost only R20.
- For more information visit markettheatre.co.za
Perfect day out
Plan correctly and you can park at Arbour Square in Braamfontein or the Newtown Junction to enjoy the tours.
If you opt for Arbour Square on Juta Street, make sure to visit Neighbourgoods Market if you’re there on a Saturday for some of the best pastel de nata (custard tarts) in Johannesburg.
Past Experiences offers a variety of tours. While some focus on graffiti, others focus on architecture, food or shopping.
I joined a budget-friendly graffiti tour and the walkabout certainly gave me a new-found interest in wall art.
While London has unpredictable artists such as Banksy, Johannesburg is home to an eclectic mix of artists who give a variety of social messages.
Tours also change often – so it’s worthwhile following Past Experiences to see what they have coming up.
On my tour day, everything ended at an art gallery opening, where we could drink free box wine and enjoy some impressive artwork.
Prices change, but check out their website for some pretty interesting experiences.
- For more information visit pastexperiences.co.za