Tourists (and Johannesburgers at the end of their tether) are well advised to visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, to catch their breath and recuperate. This well-loved nature preserve may be in Roodepoort, a north-westerly node of the urban sprawl, but it might as well be a world away.
The Garden has long been a popular stop for bridal parties as well as, dare we add, toddlers. Those who like being out in sunny weather are also known to frequent it. People go there for the hiking trails, to celebrate a birthday or, taking their cue from the plant life, just to vegetate.
Ironically, paying a recreational visit to Johannesburg is a tough call. You can be under such pressure to see so much in a limited time, that you forget to relax. And if you are a local student or overworked professional, you most likely don’t remember how to relax or even what to do in a botanical garden. For a start, because of patchy reception, you can reduce your worries by leaving things like tablets and — if humanly possible — cell phones in your dorm or at home.
But probably the best advice to the highly-strung, is found on the website of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. During an online recce, we were lured by the title, “How to Enjoy a Botanical Garden”. Under it, we discovered gems like, “Enjoy the tranquillity away from city noise”; “Take pride in South Africa’s indigenous plants and animals”; and our favourite, “Look at the beautiful surroundings”.
At the physical location, to look is to admire. Visitors may feast the senses on, among others, the succulent rockery garden, the cycad garden, the water garden, the arboretum and the geological garden. If you go, take the time to wander through the fern trail. With its shadowed slopes and footbridges, it feels just like being in one of those forests of fable.
A body named the Environmental Education and Empowerment Division conducts guided tours through the environs. Popular as field trips for students, these tours are also available to the general public, at a cost of ZAR170 on weekdays, ZAR225 on Saturdays and ZAR300 on Sundays for each group of about 20.
If flora and rock formations are not your thing, the Garden protects a diverse spread of fauna. There are examples of wild cat (caracal), various small buck, the South African hedgehog, the black-backed jackal and the Cape porcupine. Some of these creatures are shy or nocturnal. Others just hate people. If you could care less, book your crew a night walk to see the bats, for example, in the warmer months.
Of course, many nature lovers visiting the Garden are birdwatchers. They are drawn by a list of more than 226 species, in habitats including grassland, woodland and veld. The star attractions are the Verreaux’s Eagles nesting in the cliff face below the Witpoortjie Falls. To catch them in flight is enough to make anyone forget their troubles, and unwind.
Johannesburg has been the scene of much repression, resistance to progress and therefore many epic clashes over the decades. When the head-butting is done, the antagonists often record their deeds in music or literature. But in the case of Constitution Hill, masonry is the chosen medium.
The Constitution Hill precinct lies on the border between Hillbrow, Parktown and Braamfontein. It is today the seat of the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, guaranteeing the freedoms of South African citizens, relative to each other and to the State. In contrast, the first builders to break ground on the site had a more straightforward vision, viz. making sure the State stayed in power while prisoners stayed in prison.
The original structure was erected to house white male prisoners in 1892. The Old Fort was built around this prison on the orders of Paul Kruger (of Krugerrand fame) from 1896 to 1899. This was to protect what he called the South African Republic from the threat of British invasion.
Later, the Old Fort prison was extended to include "native" (black) cells, called Section 4 and Section 5. Finding that women were becoming more like men, in 1907 the State added a women's section, the Women's Gaol. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Striking white mineworkers were held on the premises in 1907, 1913 and 1922, during the term of Jan Smuts as prime minister. In the apartheid era, the prison complex became a detention centre for political dissidents.
Glancing at the total list of inmates who served time within its walls, is like taking a crash course in South African history. In a kind of poetic justice, the Kruger who had fortified the prison spent time there as a guest of the State, when he and Her Britannic Majesty Victoria quarrelled about who headed that State. Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned there in 1906. Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Bram Fischer, Albert Luthuli and Robert Sobukwe round out the roll-call of its most famous inmates.
As hinted, not all the women imprisoned in the Women's Gaol were there for being dissidents. One inmate, Daisy de Melker, the last white woman to be hanged in the country, was convicted of poisoning her son, having been unsuccessfully tried for the murder of the two men she married in succession. In 1982, Yvonne Ntonto Mhlauli, a black woman, was arrested and tried for being so bold as to hold hands in public with a white man. She was convicted under the provisions of the Immorality Act, and served her sentence at the Women's Gaol and at Diepkloof Prison.
In this sense, Constitution Hill is a museum about the stupidity of State-sponsored dehumanising ideology. It's a heritage site worth seeing, even the hour-long highlights tour. JT staff, as hardy Johannesburgers, took the two-hour full tour in the company of two kids younger than 17 years, at ZAR52.25 for each and ZAR80.75 per adult.
Iconic Afro-Soul vocalist, Ringo Madlingozi will be joined by multi-nominated SAMA Award group, The Muffinz, and acapella group, Uncunthu The Firm – Africa, to present an eclectic mix of soul-soothing sounds at the Ekurhuleni Comes Alive Jazz Evening, taking place at Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg on Friday, 9 March.
Needing no introduction, Sindile "Ringo" Madlingozi, will be headlining the evening with his inspirational, spiritual rhythms. Ringo has racked up a number of awards over the years including Best Male Vocalist at the South African Music Awards as well as Best Male Artist (Southern Africa) and Best Male Vocalist (African Continent) at the Kora awards.
Supporting Ringo are The Muffinz, five vocalists whose music is best described as a fusion of a variety of genres. Their unique sound, including drums, harmonies, guitars and base, has seen them perform at the Confederation of African Football Awards and at the Sounds of Soweto experience.
Opening the evening is upcoming local group, Uncunthu The Firm – Africa, consisting of four talented afro-pop and soul vocalists who are making a big splash on the Johannesburg music scene.
Resident MC Hector Motivator will direct the evening’s entertainment, while comedians Schoolboy and Chik Aljoy are guaranteed to have guests in stitches with their much-loved ventriloquism and local humour.
Avid fans and followers of local entertainment will not want to miss out on this star-studded line-up! The evening includes a delicious three-course meal; tickets are R450 per person and R4 500 for a table of 10. Starting at 8pm sharp, book your seats for The Ekurhuleni Comes Alive Jazz Evening on 9 March at the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre. For more information or to book contact Portia Rathebe on (011) 897 0024, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.birchwoodhotel.co.za.
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For kids and the young at heart, the combination of thrills and chills at Gold Reef City theme park is sure to be a highlight of any visit to Johannesburg. The complex is located on an old gold mine which closed in 1971. The amusement park is themed around the gold rush that started in 1886 on the Witwatersrand, Afrikaans for "the ridge of white waters" on which the city was founded.
Tsogo Sun, the operator of the park, boasts that it contains "some of South Africa’s fastest, biggest, most twisting and turning thrill rides". Indeed, the spiralling Anaconda with its suspended open-air seats is a prime attraction. Just the queue to get onto it, can be a test of self-possession. This is true especially on weekends and public holidays (except Christmas), throughout which the theme park is open.
For the very young (or very old), Gold Reef City theme park offers the option of slower rides. Among these are perennial favourites like the Carousel and the Wave Swings. To get onto rides like the Balloon Wheel and the Golden Wave, those stacking up to only 1m in height need to be accompanied by others not so challenged.
Everyone taller than the metric unit gains entry to all rides upon payment of ZAR210. We visited in February in a party of four, all taller than 1m. This implies an outlay of ZAR840, excluding transport and lunch. For your money's worth, be sure to arrive early enough to sample a fair number of rides, allowing for queues. At least 30 minutes should be set aside for a bite or to smell the roses.
Then, if you are blessed with a strong stomach, you could brave the Tower of Terror. This is not a medieval torture device, but might as well have been one, to judge by the blood-curdling screams it elicits. Little wonder, since the tower is the headgear of the old mine, down which a wagon plunges riders 50m through a shaft at speeds reaching 100 km/h.
"With a hair-raising fear factor of 10 out of 10," Tsogo Sun assures us, "the Tower of Terror will surely fulfil your need for that adrenaline rush." No other ride has a "fear factor" so high, not even the Anaconda (9) or the Golden Loop roller-coaster, at a lacklustre 8.
But be warned. Not only must you be taller than 1.3m to hurtle down the shaft, you also need to be relatively toned. This is because the Tower of Terror’s seats "may not accommodate guests with certain upper body dimensions." A test seat is provided at the entrance for each rider "to ensure your ability to safely ride." In fact, only those who survived rigorous physical training can safely contemplate the Tower of Terror. JTJr