Trendy Markets Revamping Downtown Johannesburg

20 February 2015

A former dynamite factory and an ex-parking lot -- these are some of the unlikely settings for Johannesburg's bustling weekend markets which are helping turn a once-dangerous downtown into a multiracial melting pot.

Dolly Louw, a young black actress from Soweto, finds the markets an ideal place to "mix and play".

"There's no discrimination, there's nothing, just people having fun and socialising, networking, getting to know each other, which I think is beautiful," said Louw.

 Johannesburg's market culture is booming

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Quality Artisan Goods

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Neighbourgoods Market - which is held every Saturday in a former parking lot of the popular and historic Braamfontein district -- is famous for its food and drink.

From craft beers, wine, cheese and fresh coconut milk to ice cream, pancakes, smoked pork, pesto, samosas, dim sum and gourmet hotdogs, the choice is enormous.

"Every stall has got quality stuff," said Werner Mennen, a lawyer who has come with a friend from a distant suburb of the city.

But it is more than a traditional food market. It is about a new culture.

"It's an unique experience in Johannesburg," added Mennen.

Fashionista Elisma van der Merwe comes here "to unwind and experience the urban lifestyle of Johannesburg, and the good food and the craft beer."

 Craft beer and more await the eager market-goers (Getty)

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Here, one could be forgiven for forgetting that race relations are still strained in South Africa more than 20 years after the end of apartheid.

People from many walks of life sit around long dining tables placed in the middle of the room -- in the true spirit of the "rainbow nation".

Chamandri Pillay has driven 60 kilometres from Pretoria, along with work mates from an insurance company, for a team-building outing in the historic parts of a city built on gold mining.

A crime wave in the 1990s drove big businesses and whites from Johannesburg's central districts -- turning it into a no-go area for many middle class South Africans.

The streets were unkempt and buildings became squalid in the wake of mass influx of poor black South Africans and African immigrants.

"Back in the days the CBD was really like taboo to be in," said Louw.

But with a massive inflow of private and public investment into infrastructural development, the urban space is gradually being reclaimed.

 People from all cultures connect over good food and company (Getty)

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A New Culture

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The sprawling markets are not only regenerating Johannesburg, but are infusing it with a new a culture -- turning away from the traditional glittering shopping malls that are so typical of South Africa's commercial hub.

The markets are being re-invented as social institutions, helping consumers discover new flavours and fashion, said Neighbourgoods curator Ben Cox.

They are a "way to bring people together, to expose them to a different way of looking at how they eat, what they wear," said Cox.

"The market as a culture and as an institution is something which brings education to people, educating them to new ways of doing things, and it's a new type of consumerism," said Cox.

A few kilometres from here is another market, Market on Main, situated in the heart of Maboneng, a vibrant district transformed from a dingy cluster of factories and warehouses.

The market here opens on Sundays, attracting affluent and middle class visitors seeking an escape from the high walls and gated communities of the northern suburbs.

"This is not the city of the 90s, which was dangerous and was not a good place to be," said Alex Bernatzky, manager of Market on Main. "I actually feel safer here in Maboneng and in downtown Joburg than I do anywhere else in Joburg."

 The best parts of the old culture remain, while new traditions create a place people want to visit (Getty)

A third market, The Shed@1Fox, opened late last year in one of the oldest buildings in the inner city.

It is housed in a huge former dynamite warehouse, a key part of the city when Johannesburg -- also known by its nickname of eGoli, which means the place of gold -- was growing as a mining town.

Operators of the new market are more ambitious. They want it to open daily and hope it will become a tourist hub.

The idea of the cosmopolitan gourmet markets originates from Cape Town, a popular destination for international tourists.

There, the markets have become an institution since they were launched just under a decade ago, helping to infuse new life into down-at-heel districts.

This article was from AFP Relax News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

AFP Relaxnews

AFP Relaxnews is a French news agency dedicated to leisure news