Day 1: Walking tour of Fordsburg, Fietas and Mayfair

The research component of our course officially started today.

The aim of the in-depth project is to be immersed in a community for about three weeks  in order to produce a 2000 word, well researched featured article.

As an introduction to the areas of Fordsburg, Fietas and Mayfair, where we will be working, we went on a walking tour for the day.

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Starting at the Fietas Museum in Fourteenth street, the museum is a monument to the once bustling shopping district of Johannesburg. The area was demolished between 1969-1979 and now stands derelict. Many of the building were partially demolished so a collection of destroyed houses are littered between small low-cost homes which were intended for low income white families when the non-white residents were forcibly removed and relocated to areas such as Lenasia.

I heard of Fietas for the first time a few weeks ago while interviewing a trio of Muslim students for one of my feature assignments which focused on why people choose to live in certain areas. According to them living in Fietas, Mayfair or Fordsburg is looked down on by some who have moved out in favour of more affluent areas.

Standing outside the Fietas museum, a bright blue, red, white and green building, whose columns and upstairs balcony hark back to a colonial building style, I was struck (and slightly embarrassed) at how little I know about the city I inhabit.

There is a group of people who live at the top of Fourteenth street on and around the foundations of a demolished building. As we walked passed, cellphones in hand, one of the men shouted to us “come, come take a photo of the hobos!”. Being near the front of the group I’m unsure if anyone did but I felt that perhaps the shout was a way of asking for attention or even acknowledgement from the group, we had just walked through his home without a moments hesitation.

As the tour continued I tried to better acknowledge the residents around me, greeting those who walked passed and thinking twice when the urge arrived to callously snaps some shots of people’s homes. We were the outsiders there and respecting the residents space was important if we wanted to gain trust.

One the way back to the museum I stopped with our photography lecturer TJ and Dana to talk to one of the men living on Fourteenth street. He began telling us how he came to Johannesburg from Umtata in hope of a better life but now sells old books and trinkets on the quiet street corner he calls home.

We then made our way towards Oriental Plaza and the busier streets of Fordsburg.  I drive through the outskirts of Fordsburg on my way to Wits on weekly basis but I had never walked through the area until today.

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I loved the vibrancy of the area, the bustling streets, the smell of spices as we walked passed shops and the seamless merge between old and new. An old corner building with a loft of pigeons perched calmly on the corrugated roof. Below a neat line of clean laundry dried on wire strung across the balcony above “Mohammedy Restaurant and Takeaway”. A short walk down the road brings you to “Burger King” its sign gleaming off the modern building it calls home.

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We met up with Amir Sheikh, Chairperson of the Somali Community Board. He gave us a background of the Somali* community in Mayfair. It was very interesting to hear what life is like from the perspective of the community rather than South African media or the South African perspective, which does have a tendency to present foreigners negatively. During the tour I felt so welcomed by the community of “Little Mogadishu” as it is popularly know. We were given a taste of traditional Somali food such as kackac (similar to Vetkoek).

My favourite part of the tour was a visit to an Ethiopian cafe where we had freshly roasted and ground Ethiopian coffee. It was truly the best coffee I have ever drunk.

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While we filled the cafe we were handed cold drinks and water to keep us going until lunch. A huge silver platter with a bowl of kitfo (raw marinated beef mince) and injera (giant pancake) was passed around. I was slightly hesitant to be the first to try it so I waited for Reuven (the only male in our class of 20) to try it first. After he his response of “hmm, that delicious can I have more” I broke off a piece of injera, wrapped some kitfo in it and ate it. It was spicy and delicious, similar to eating a wet piece of biltong.

Our final stop for the day was a restaurant on the corner of Mint street called “Kashif’s Fusion Foods”. The chance to sit down was welcomed by the group and the food, once again, did not disappoint.

*Citizens of Somalia are Somali (individual) or Somalis (plural) not Somalians.

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