bashes and gumba - gumba (traditional
house parties in Soweto) to lang - arm (ballroom
dances) and jols (any good party) in the suburbs,
Johannesburg has a lively nightlife, however it is quite divided
between white and black venues. There is a somewhat puzzling selection
of bars (often male and sport dominated), pubs (more refined and
expensive than bars), shebeens (informal drinking places, generally
in someone’s home), taverns (more fancy than a shebeens, perhaps
with live music) and nightclubs (venues with cover charges, smart
casual dress codes, late openings and generally with dancing) to
choose from. Every Friday, the Mail
& Guardian publishes exhaustive listings of what is on where.
Listings are available online.
The nightlife is focused around distinct districts,
with Melville / Brixton being 1 of the most popular areas. Other
northern suburbs (such as Norwood, Rosebank, Rivonia and Orange
Grove) are also popular with more prosperous party animals, whilst
the Central Business District, Braamfontein, Yeoville and Newtown
also get going after dark.
Going out alone in Soweto is not recommended, it is advised to go
with a local or take a guided tour or ‘Shebeen Crawl’
(see Soweto Tours in the Key Attractions section). There are no
strict licensing hours and many clubs stay open until sunrise and
The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. Several
upmarket hotels have a smar casual dress code, although in almost
all other establishments, anything goes. Admission charges (usually
between R 10 and R 50) are fairly common, definitely when there
is a live band playing. Raves, a popular Joburg experience, can
be expensive at R 80 to R 170. Tickets to these and other events
can be purchased online.
The trendiest bar in town, where the younger crowd
and the financial elite sit side by side and suck wine coolers or
sip daiquiris and discuss music and millions, is Kilimanjaro in
(telephone: 684 1418). Catz Pajamas, a 24 hour restaurant and pub
on Main Road, or The Full Stop, a café on Fourth Avenue,
are great places to start the night.
The Ratz Bar, Seventh Street, is another lively young bar, and Roxy
Rhythm Bar, 20 Main Road, Melville, is a laid back place for a drink
and a game of pinball or pool, although it does get hectic
later, as local bands play every night. Donna Diego’s
Tobacconist, Seventh Street, is a tobacconist’s shop that
is home to a small, comfortable yet upmarket bar. The bar is a great
place to buy the smoke of your choice and savour it at the same
time as listening to classical music and sipping a brandy.
In Braamfontein, Champions, on the corner of Wolmarans and Rissik
Streets, lies Johannesburg’s oldest gay bar.
The mixed atmosphere is friendly, although the area is not the safest.
Carfax, 39 Pim Street, in Newtown, is the venue to go if you are
in the mood for performance art with your beer, it also arranges
1 of the city’s oldest bars is Radium
Beer Hall, 282 Louis Botha Avenue, in Orange Grove. It started
life as a tea room in 1929, was transformed to a beer hall in 1944
and has never looked back. Alternatively, for real upmarket venue
in the suburbs, Jabulani’s, Park Hyatt Hotel, Oxford Road,
Rosebank is recommended.
The new Montecasino
gambling complex is situated in the suburb of Fourways.
The complex, which is a replica of a fortified Tuscan village, includes
cinemas, restaurants, theatres, clubs and shows. It covers and area
of 5 hectares (20 acres) and is a maze underneath a false summer
night sky. The casino offers the full range of games and is separated
from the shops and restaurants by an artificial stream. The age
limit is 18 years and identification will perhaps be needed.
There is no dress code however shorts and sandals are not encouraged.
Melville has its fair share of trendy nightclubs,
however Hillbrow and Yeoville still offer the most genuinely South
African club scene. An eclectic mix of disco, hip
hop,soul, mbaqanga and kwaito on is offered here, as well as a friendly
and up for it crowd.
Base, on the corner of Twist and Kotze Streets, Hillbrow, attracts
well dressed customers and benefits from a excellent chill out balcony.
Da Flava, Rockey Street, Yeoville, is also aimed at the well dressed,
playing a lot of hip hop. The fashionable young black crowd
go to Piccadilly Café, corner of Rockey and Cavendish Streets,
Yeoville. 206 Live, 206 Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove, is a great
place to go for funk and drum 'n' bass.
A flourishing rave culture is centred around Ice
Productions with its huge Ice Festivals. Their Freedom
Festival takes place at The Electric Workshop, in the Mega Music
precinct, Gough Street (between Jeppe and Commissioner Streets),
Newtown, an area including a revamped old turbine house and numerous
Favoured venues are Reality, 248 Jeppe Street,
which has 3 dance floors and offers a blend of hip hop, house and
drum 'n' bass, Midrand, the home of some big parties of note, Bump,
on the corner of Alexander and Aitken Roads, and Carfax, 39 Pim
Street, Newtown, which is a chief venue for launches and parties.
Productions hosts regular H²O parties at Wildwaters, a
water theme park in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. Other extraordinary
venues for raves include the Newtown Music Hall (formerly the Mega
Music Warehouse), between Pim, Goch, Bezuidenhout and President
Streets, Newtown, the turbine hall of a deserted power station.
The Arts Alive festival (telephone: (011) 838 6407)
occurs each year during September, primarily at venues in Newtown
but also in Soweto and Tembisa. Apart from stage productions and
general music concerts, such as the popular Jazz on the Lake (at
the Zoo lake), community festivals from Alexandra
and Soweto are also included. There are several sub festivals that
occur at the same time, including Joy of Jazz and Dance @ Arts Alive.
This is observed as 1 of South Africa’s top dance festivals
and boasts a huge programme. Zwakala Festival at the Market Theatre
Laboratory is an annual festival, into its 9th year, which gives
novice theatre groups the opportunity to perform in a professional
environment (telephone: (011) 832 1642/3).
FNB Vita run numerous festivals, including Dance
Umbrella, the major national platform for South African choreography,
each February and March, at the Wits Theatre, Jorrisson Street,
Braamfontein, the Windybrow Theatre Festival, every March at the
Windybrow Centre for the Arts, 161 Nugget Street, Hillbrow, and
the Market Theatre Laboratory Community Theatre Festival, where
music, plays and dance are showcased by community theatre troupes
The annual World of Music and Dance festival, WOMAD,
takes place over a weekend, at Bluegum Creek in Benoni, and includes
a late night dance event, workshops and weekend camping (dates change
Dance Factory (telephone: (011) 833 1347,
facsimile: (011) 833 1263, email address: firstname.lastname@example.org),
President Street, Newtown Cultural Precinct, hosts a massive range
of international and local performers, often mixing classical and
- Kinekor (telephone: 086 030 0222) cinemas are situated at
dozens of venues throughout Johannesburg and screen mainstream movies.
Cinema Nouveau, situated at The Mall shopping centre, 50 Bath Avenue,
Rosebank (telephone: (011) 880 2866), has a reputation for showing
art house films. The year 2000 saw the 1st ever Soweto
Film Festival, which could well become an annual event.
Some prominent films set in Johannesburg include
Mapantsula (1988), which tells of a petty hoodlum caught up in the
events of the student riots in Soweto, The Foreigner (1994), which
deals with the growing xenophobia aimed mostly at immigrant Africans
in Johannesburg, and The Line (1996), which portrays ordinary South
Africans caught up in the violent times of a fast changing society.
Johannesburg’s turbulent past (and present) has provided fertile
grounds for the growth of a rich literary tradition.
A brilliant source of books is the African
Books Collective. Nadine Gordimer, who won
the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, was born close to the city
in 1923 and has lived in Parktown, Johannesburg since 1948. In The
House Gun (1998), set in Johannesburg, she explores, through a murder
trial, the struggles of a violence ridden post apartheid society.
In his writings about Johannesburg, Herman Charles Bosman
(1910 to 1951) presents the soul of the city as reflecting the soul
of Africa. To understand the background as to why Johannesburg has
intrigued so many writers, Gandhi’s Johannesburg: Birthplace
of Satyagraha (2000), by Eric Itzkin, and A City
Divided: Johannesburg and Soweto (1984), by Nigel Mandy, are both
good preliminary reads.
Although Nelson Mandela was not born in Johannesburg,
he did own a law practice here in the 1950's and was arrested in
the suburb of Rivonia, before being tried and convicted for treason
in 1963. Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (1995)
presents a remarkable insight into what Johannesburg in the 1940's
and 50's was like for this extraordinary man.
Zakes Mda’s new novel about Sophiatown, Heart
of Redness (2001), discovers the area during ‘The golden 50's,
the flowering of South African culture and the Sophiatown renaissance.’
1 of Johannesburg’s most well known theatrical sons is Pieter-Dirk
Uys, perhaps better known as Evita Bezuidenhout. Pieter-Dirk
Uys started frustrating South African politicians and censors with
his plays from 1973 onwards. His more notorious works include Adapt
or Dye (1981), which insulted the white regime’s preoccupation
with skin colour and, more recently, Truth Omissions (1996 / 1997),
a somewhat ascorbic comment on South Africa’s Truth Commission,
a post apartheid platform to assist reconciliation and reparation.
1 of South Africa’s greatest living poets, Don Mattera,
was born in Johannesburg’s Sophiatown in 1935. His grandparents
sent him to a private Catholic boarding school, which he despised.
Here he acquired little other than skills in English, boxing and
codes of masculinity, which he turned to great advantage on his
return to Sophiatown, where he became leader of one of the most
well known gangs, the Vultures. Then, slowly, along with the campaign
opposed to the apartheid removals (from Sophiatown), began the process
of politicisation (membership of the ANC Youth League) and his conversion
from gangland boss to political activist.
Poetry Slams (literary boxing matches) happen at the Mixer
Café Theatre, on the corner of Fourth Avenue and
Seventh Street, Melville.
The forceful lyrics and irresistible dance beats of kwaito
can be heard blasting out of clubs, taxis, shebeens and street parties
throughout Johannesburg. The genre uses local languages and street
slang in lyrics that reflect life in South Africa and employs a
distinct South African style of dressing and dancing.
Places to hear kwaito include Enigma, 187 Oxford Road, Rosebank
(telephone: (011) 442 9190), Sankayi, Mutual Square, Rosebank (telephone:
(011) 447 8653), Planet Katzys, Lakeside Mall, Benoni (telephone:
(011) 427 1964), Monsoon Lagoon, and Caesar’s Palace, Kempton
Park (telephone: (011) 928 1280). Also worth checking out are La
Frontière, Hillbrow, Insomnia, Randburg, Tandoor, Yeoville,
707i, Orlando West, Soweto. Maskande is a Zulu / country fusion
that is well signified by Philemon Zulu and the Jeremy Franklin
Band. Busi Mhlongo and Madala Kunene are also worth watching.
Gigs are not as common as they are for kwaito
performances, therefore visitors should check local press. Good
website's to get all the latest details include www.rage.co.za
Melville’s The Bassline has moved to the
Newtown Music Hall (formerly Mega Music Warehouse) in the Newtown
Cultural Precinct and is still 1 of the most popular jazz and blues
venues in Johannesburg, hosting several great local live
bands (such as Tananas).
In Melville, the Roxy Rhythm Bar may lean towards students but,
despite its brawny rock and basic burger atmosphere, you are still
certain of a great local music line up. Rosebank has the dark, smoky
located in the Village Walk complex on Rivonia Road, which is rated
as the best jazz and blues venue in town. In Newtown, Kippies, at
the Market Theatre, 121 Bree Street, also hosts very good (and subsequently
packed) jazz nights. Travellers seriously into
live music, are advised to take a guided tour of Soweto’s
shebeens. Julian’s Bistro and Music Theatre, 286 Acacia Road,
Blackheath, is open from Wednesdays to Sundays and concentrates
on blues, jazz blues, blues rock and fusion. Brilliant sites to
visit are www.tonight.co.za
Since 1976 and the days of protest theatre, the Market
Theatre Company, 121 Bree Street, Newtown Cultural Precinct
(telephone: (011) 832 1641), has gained a reputation for putting
on productions that are socially relevant. The Civic Theatre
Complex, Loveday Street, Braamfontein (telephone: (011)
403 3408), comprises the Nelson Mandela Theatre (formerly Civic
Main), Tesson, Thabong and Pieter Roos theatres and an art gallery.
Shows are mainly local productions, spectaculars,
musicals, comedy and pantomime
(when in season).
Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Shop 65, Montecasino Boulevard,
on the corner of William Nicol Drive and Witkoppen Road, Fourways
(telephone: (011) 511 1988), owned by the great impresario who gave
it his name, gives both new and established artistes opportunities
for new directions and growth.
Another famous theatre and cabaret figure, Richard Loring, runs
Stage, Old Pretoria Road, Midrand (telephone: (011) 315 5084).