30 April 2013

28 April 2013

Jozi walking part 4 - Joburg Places and Spaces

This is part 4 in a series on walking tours of Johannesburg. While other cities also offer guided tours, Jozi is unique in my mind as a place where people will group together, with or without a guide, to visit places that they normally wouldn't. Whether for safety in numbers, unfamiliarity or companionship, it's a thing here.

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Gerald, our tour leader, making a point
I met Gerald through my friend Heather. He is the author of the definitive Jozi guide - Joburg Places and Spaces 2.0. At long last I get to take part in one of his walking tours around the regenerated CBD. We meet in the current flavour of the month suburb of Braamfontein with its Neighbourgoods Market and the Lomo Gallery as well as an upmarket bike shop. It has everything a city borough needs to attract the better-off hip crowds of Joburg thirsty for new weekend venues: student bars, start-ups and refurbished condos.

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Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein
Grabbing some delicious biltong from the market we set for our six hour walk to see the CBD regeneration. Yes, six hours, but as Gerald points out, there are lots of opportunities to sit and listen to his story, or to gaze at the view, or to have a rest on the bus between destinations. The tour is offered most weekends, together with another walk from Newtown to Maboneng.

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Gerald explaining the layout of the CBD
Our tour today comprises of a German family whose son lives locally, a Portuguese couple of photographers - he lugs a tripod and heavy camera from shot to shot - and two older Jozi couples giving wistful insights into the history of their home town.

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The view from Randlords
Before we set off Gerald gives us an introduction to Braamfontein, the CBD and general Joburg history. With the historical Kitchener's Hotel pub behind us and the freshly renovated Play Braamfontein store fronts in front of us, Gerald takes us through his theory of cities as microcosms of a country. The struggle for political power, for economic improvement, for cultural dominance, all this is played out all over South Africa, and in a concentrated form, in Joburg.

The view from the ladies - no, really!

We walk down the street to Randlords, one of the many private rooftop bars dotted around the city. The 22nd floor is one great window to the skyline, currently being set up for a wedding of hundreds. There is an elaborate deck with cushioned beds for lounging behind a glass bannister. There is even a swing for the playful-minded. The views south across the railway lines towards Newtown, east over the green suburbs to Brixton tower and the slag heap remnants of the gold mines, west to Hillbrow and the CBD are stunning, giving us a taste of what's to come.

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In the midst of the city
We meander our way through Braamfontein to the Rea Vaya bus stop at Park Station at the western end of Braamfontein for our drive to First National Bank in the heart of the city. The Rea Vaya, together with the Gautrain, are Joburg's latest addition to its frankly pathetic public transport system. This is a driving city, and if you can't afford a car, you are reduced to taking the crazy minibuses. They are dangerously driven, overcrowded and feel themselves above traffic rules, but they are cheap and run back and forth to Soweto. The Rea Vaya buses on the other hand have the potential to transform the public transport scene. They run on routes currently serviced by mini taxis, which made them controversial to set up (the mini taxi racket is highly profitable and tightly controlled by private bosses, which led to violent demonstrations, strikes and threats when the bus system was first implemented), but in its own pragmatic fashion the bus company has contracted the routes out to the former mini taxi owners, and employs the taxi drivers as bus drivers. There are still some problems, resulting in shiny new stations being boarded up while contracting disputes are resolved, but in the city at least the buses are running more or less on a schedule.

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Street trader selling peanuts and underpants
The bus arrives as soon as we get to the station, a cool sleek glass container with ticket barriers at either end. A sign tells us of all the activities that are not allowed at the station: no eating, no hawking, no waiting, no littering, no graffiti, no flyposting, no music, no smoking, no skate boarding, no guns, no dogs. One symbol of a hand is mystifying: No smacking? No waving? No gloves?

All the activities that are not allowed on the Rea Vaya

There is a smart card system in development, but for now we get paper tickets. The clean, new, fast bus (it runs in dedicated lanes through the CBDs grid) takes us downtown to the first of the regenerated areas. The Kerk Street development used to be a rough informal market street, but now has French-style open roofs for the traders and hair braiders stretched along the centre of the pedestrianised street. Both sides are lined with mainstream shops selling fashion like any other shopping street.

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Braiding supply shops
We stop at the bottom of the street next to a row of fruit and veg stalls to listen to Gerald explain the concept of public area regeneration. The premise is that since the council can't afford to renovate the whole CBD, it would improve the public areas to encourage private capital to come in and take over the run-down buildings. So far the city council has made good on the promise of making the streets of the CBD safer and more pleasant, and slowly businesses are moving back and transforming the dilapidated office blocks, many of which have previously been squatted. It's a huge struggle against the inertia of decay. Despite the new paving, the numerous pieces of street art, the pragmatic accommodation of informal traders, there are still plenty of potholes and broken kerbs. I see some of the grand old city buildings have been rescued or replaced with marble shininess, but there are still plenty of ruins with smoke-blackened window holes, graffiti-covered walls and boarded-up shop doorways. It's a long and slow process. 

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Hair braiders on Kerk Street
We proceed up Eloff street, once the fashionable shopping mall of the CBD with the most expensive properties, now slowly recovering. The new buildings of First National Bank nearby are bringing flush shoppers back into town. The kerbside is clogged with street stalls selling underpants and socks, bags of sweets and phone credit, cheap jewellery and pens. Women sit on wobbly stools having their hair braided.

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Markham's Department Store
We hear about the Markham building, an elaborate wrought-iron clock tower topping the oldest department store in the city, about the CNA headquarter, a once stylish five-storey corner block now boarded up and abandoned. We stop at the famous Rissick street post office, built by Paul Kruger to show the British that an Afrikaaner government could be as sophisticated as the Empire. Now a burnt-out shell after a 2009 fire, it was going to be demolished until a campaign to save the historic building forced a rebuilding project. At catty corners sits the grandly white Mutual Insurance building. Equally significant for its Edwardian building style, it, too, was going to be demolished, and will now be renovated and improved.

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Rissick Street Post Office
This is something of a theme: there seems to be absolutely no sense of architectural heritage here. Amazing historical buildings are simply abandoned until squatters make short work of the structure, and then pulled down to leave an empty lot that can only hope to survive as a parking lot, or have an anonymous glass and granite edifice parked on it. The CBD is filled with ugly sky scrapers from the bad old days of apartheid, the fatally style-deaf 70s have left their legacy, but there are also still some elegant Art Deco affairs, some late Victorian and Edwardian edifices of the Empire age, and some stylish 60s modernist blocks. No-one seems to think it important to preserve them.

Another intriguing architectural style, representative of 60s Apartheid paranoia
We have arrived in Gandhi Square, a large open space of bus ranks lined by lawyer's offices - the courts are nearby. Behind the bronze statue of the young Gandhi flutters a banner from the current council proclaiming:
 'Jozi, you've come a long way. Now let's go even further.'
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Gandhi would approve
Much of the regeneration of this historic square has come for the unlikely direction of a law firm (Olitzki) that took over many buildings in 1989 and has been involved in preserving both Gandhi's- he practiced law here before going to India to overthrow the British colonialists - and Mandela's offices - who also practiced law here before his arrest and imprisonment.

The regenerated Ernest Oppenheimer Park
Our walk ends at the Reef hotel, with the funky and cool Gold Reef Cafe on the ground floor. We take in one more sweeping view of the city, this time from an opposite vantage point of the earlier Randlords' view. Gerald takes us through the recent history of the city, explaining the seemingly sudden abandonment of the centre for the suburbs - and the new centre of Sandton. There was an element of self-destruction involved in the legal restrictions imposed by the Apartheid government to control the movements of the black majority. Laws to limit how many black workers an industrial businesses could employ if they had their factory in the city caused major problems. The number was six. With the introduction of the laws manufacturing businesses were forced to relocate. Large factories left the CBD, abandoning the southern area's industrial zone. Pass laws restricted blacks to homelands in rural areas, and only those  that had a job were allowed into the city. Since the factories were forced to move out, there was no access to the city for black workers or shoppers.

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Chilling on the rooftops
Then, in 1985, president Botha made a famously shocking speech called 'crossing the rubicon': in the face of international pressure instead of liberalising he clamped down on the anti-apartheid movement, made South Africa a military state, and declared a state of emergency. In expectation of the coming sanctions all international businesses left the city, leaving empty offices and ruined support businesses behind. At the same time the city workers left the northern city suburbs of Hillbrow and Yeoville, then bustling middle-class neighbourhoods, following the direction their workplaces had taken. Vast numbers of flats were unoccupied. Landlords keen to keep their income allowed flats to be occupied by poorer tenants, who turned to overcrowding to finance their new homes. The local municipality turned a blind eye because it disagreed with apartheid, allowing the deterioration of properties. In a few short years at the end of the 80s Jozi CBD turned from world metropolis into ravaged slum.

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A fashion afficionado in Kerk Street
We leave Gerald's tour here to return to Braamfontein, exhausted and enlightened in equal parts by this half day wander through the city. He will take the rest of the group on south and then return to Braamfontein by bus. I am left with a head buzzing with all the new impressions. It seems that every time I brave the CBD I see a new and fascinating part of it. There is the student hipness of Braamfontein, the cultural hub of Newtown, the hip lifestyle centre of Maboneng, the unjustly neglected art gallery and Joubert park. Now I can add the intriguing shopping streets of Kerk and Eloff streets.

You can find more photos in my Flickrstream.
You can find an overview of Jozi walks here, my account of a guided walk in Melville here, a Yeoville walk here, an account of instawalking here and my story of photowalking here

22 April 2013

An Easter outing

We pick up Heather at 9am. The sun is blazing, the long weekend is upon us, it's time to get out of town. Hartebespoort Dam is easy to get to, so that's our aim for today. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, so the little town is busy by the time we get there, the main road clogged with visitors. As the closest resort to both Jozi and Pretoria, Hartebespoort consists of holiday homes and retirement communities. It's all very Afrikaans, as Heather points out, although I can't really tell, a white South African looks like another to me.

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The signs of autumn are upon us
We have two destinations in mind today, perfect and easily digestible both: the newly renovated cablecar going up the Magaliesberg and the film set of the comedy musical Pretville (Afrikaans link).

Hartie's Cable Car

Cable car first, to avoid the after lunch crush. But when we get there, a queue is already building, the car park full of SUVs and bakkies. Stuart gets tickets while we start queuing up the stairs. The lift was built in 1973 with Swiss equipment and know-how, but closed down in the 80's, only re-opening last year. It's a pretty nice renovation, with a few shops and cafes, clean toilets and an organised system to maximise passengers. A ticket collector checks the queue to match groups to always fill each carriage with six people. Everyone is happy to jump the queue. We wind our way up the ramp until we enter the station hall, a big room open at the end where the carriages slide in and out on overhead wires.

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The lift cars are small, green and glassed in. They keep moving as passengers get out and in. We have to swap seats to balance each other's weight, then the car slides off with a big whoosh like a fairground ride. Suddenly, at great speed, we are above the car park, and then above the wild hills. Underneath is a thicket of green trees, red earth, yellow rocks. We gain height and the valley unfolds below us. In the distance the green-blue of the dam blazes in the sun. Behind it low hills point the way to Joburg, while to our right and left the eroded slopes of the Magaliesberg step away from us in geometric uniformity. Below me I can make out a thin path winding uphill. Above me the slack lines of the cable connection hold us in the air.

The threesome opposite us, a couple and their lady friend visiting form Cape Town, smile at our excited exclamations at the view. The visitor was not impressed. Having the table mountain cable car on your doorstep, this must be a comedown. I am intrigued: by the sheer cliffs we pass and the trees growing stubbornly out of a tiny crack in the rocks; by the possibility of seeing animals; by the loud fresh green against the harsh dry red soil.

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The ride is over too soon, and we step off the moving cart at the top station. A walkway guides us around and up the hill with pointers along the way. It's hot, with children jostling to climb the rocks on the edge of the hill, nervous parents holding on to their hands to prevent fatal falls. Haartebespoort spreads below us in a hot haze. We can just make out the sailing marina, the main road and blotches of retirement estates.


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Pretville's hairdresser set

Next we backtrack to Pretville, the film set for a 50s Afrikaans musical. It's an incongruous place, a fake ice-cream coloured confection used to film an all-singing, all-dancing spectacle of history white-washing. While the Group Areas Act was being designed to force families from their homes, the diner served milk shakes and the pharmacy treated babies with colic.

An innocuous-looking police car is parked in the square, dinky and cute. I have the overwhelming sense that it is missing a black offender of the pass laws in the back. The car repair shop lacks an oily labourer, and the tiny prison tucked away behind the children's clothing store really should have been staffed with ANC supporters. The place feels like a lie, all of us white people (unlike the cable car, there are no actual black faces at Pretville) wandering about this movie-glossed version of a reality that never was.

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the sweet shop
Unlike the photos in a photo book I saw recently, where the poverty of mind and life, the harsh conditions of the Karoo, the wiry stubbornness and hateful relationships with blacks was clear and unmistakeable, here all the issues have just been airbrushed out of the picture. I guess the 50s in South Africa is just not a a historical period that lends itself to bubblegum entertainment.

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On the way home, by way of irony, we passed Diepsloot, one of the biggest 'informal settlements' just north of Joburg. This woman was cutting straw from a fallow field across the township to sell as roofing material. No pink here.

You can see more photos on Flickr:


16 April 2013

11 April 2013

Jozi walking part 3 - Instawalking

This is part 3 in a series on walking tours of Johannesburg. While other cities also offer guided tours, Jozi is unique in my mind as a place where people will group together, with or without a guide, to visit places that they normally wouldn't. Whether for safety in numbers, unfamiliarity or companionship, it's a thing here.
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There's always one...
We met in Newtown in plenty of time to catch the sunset. Like a clandestine group of spies we gathered in a car park. Roy arrived on his scooter, Alessio drove in from Pretoria, Heather and I from down the road at Melville. It's my first Instawalk. Getting invited was a bit of an effort. True to the spy theme, you have to know someone who nows where and when the meeting takes place, and most important of all, that they even exist. There is no website, no Facebook group, to invitations. I feel like just for once I am in with the in-crowd.

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Afternoon in Fordsburg
The term Instawalking derives from Instagram, the fabulously popular photo-sharing site. Instagrammers are photographers of every kind, from selfie-shooting narcissists to baby-photo-posting parents, from collectors of urban moments to filter-abusing landscape artists. It's a cultural phenomenon, and since it relies on a smart phone camera, it means that snaps can be posted any time. Some Instagrammers have never used a camera before, some are professionals, most have developed a passion for shooting their life and times.

After a short conversation we decide to move on to Fordsburg to catch the sunset. The other three instagrammers are old hands, so I just tag along. They are looking for the right light, searching always for the un-noticed location, the unusual angle. The urban landscape lends itself to instagramming, so it is no wonder that the thing took off in Jozi, urban centre of gritty urban centres.

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The end of the day

Beyond the main street, in the warehousing Asian/Arab suburb of Fordsburg we hit the jackpot. Quiet streets, abandoned store houses, interesting afternoon shadows. As we wander the streets we are quizzed by onlookers. Security guards check us out, shop keepers take our photo as we take theirs, passers-by shake their heads at our interest in their run-down neighbourhood.

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Fully equipped instagrammers

Roy has come equipped. With his Ollyclip and his mini-tripod he flattens himself in the middle of the street, perches his camera on a high wall, changes lenses to grab just the right shot. The rest of us make do with the basic iPhone camera (although Instagram also exists for Android, today we are an exclusive iGroup), looking for the unseen behind the street frontages.
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Fordsburg public art
Fordsburg is full of unexpected sights: political graffiti on a garden wall, a mural high up above a row of shops, stylish art deco architecture, strange textures where paint has weathered and burnt. People are happy for us to photograph them: the woman on her way home with a baby strapped to her, the man carrying a big roll of fabric on his head, the shopkeeping brothers under their neon lights.

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winter is coming
Eventually the sun sets and we retire to Fordsburg market. A bustling centre for the neighbourhood, this Sunday evening it's heaving with families and friends out for an evening of window-shopping and dinner.

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Time for tea
The market is squashed into a tiny area between a main road and rows of shops selling glamorous but demure dresses, imaginative head scarf arrangements, shiny shoes and cheap electronics. It reminds me of Satwa, the Dubai neighbourhood most like a real place in that city of gloss and fake. We grab a cup of sugar cane juice freshly made and spiked with pomegranate, consider the many food options and plump for the Afghan chef in a white hat grilling chicken at his tiny stall. The nan bread comes straight out of the portable stone oven and the chicken is mouth-tinglingly spicy. A perfect end to a perfect walk. Let's just hope that I am invited back.

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hijab fashions
You can find an overview of Jozi walks here, my account of a guided walk in Melville here, a Yeoville walk here and my story of photowalking here

05 April 2013

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - How to copy a file path in OS X

read more here

via http://reviews.cnet.com/8300-13727_7-.html

Fiver's Mac Tip of the Day - Quickly manage documents from the path menu in OS X

read more here

via http://reviews.cnet.com/8300-13727_7-.html

04 April 2013

Instagramming about home

A few days ago my friend Heather challenged me on Instagram. The social photo network has recently become my home for image creativity. I still publish my photos on Flickr, but Instagram is more fun, with a better community and wider reach amongst my friends. It's where my pictures have an audience.

So what's an Instagram challenge? Well, after shooting, editing, filtering and sharing the first few hundred photos, Instagram can become a little same-y. So apart from taking Instawalks (more on that next week), Instagrammers challenge each other to shoot photos on a certain theme. Heather's theme for me, quite innocently chosen, was 'at home'. She tells me she imagined that I would photograph pretty still lives around the house. Maybe a view from the terrace (it's a great view). Little did she know that her theme would throw me into full-on retrospective mode. Here are the results, with my comments, as the photos are more symbolic than pretty:

Shot one of my latest #5shotchallenge with the theme of #athome. This is my writing setup at my favourite cafe. It's as much my home as anyplace ever is.
I do spend my most productive days in cafes. Despite a good desk, a comfy sofa, and few distractions, the place where is sleep and eat is not the most conducive for writing. Since my work is who I am, where I work must be where I belong, right?

Shot two of my @5shotchallenge on a theme of #athome. Packing to move house is my way of cutting down on the clutter. Time to travel again, to make another place my home.
We move house multiple times a year. Some years we have a steady base, but others we seem to be constantly on the move. Packing suitcases, choosing what to take and what to put into storage is becoming ever easier. Right now we are just changing accommodation for our last month is Johannesburg, so the process is pretty painless. Still, I have trouble thinking of this place, or the last one, or the one before that, as home. The few possessions I cart around, the data on my laptop and the few cherished items of jewellery, the odd knock-knack and the essential camera gear - those embody home more than the actual location they are stored in.

Shot three in my #5shotchallenge on a theme of #athome - every morning, wherever I am, as if by magic, a cup of tea appears by my bedside. #stuartrules
And here is the real deal. The routine, the daily habits, the things we do together, those are the moments where I feel I belong. Wherever I am, I have learnt, my habits don't change. I used to imagine that if I were just in this other, better, place, then I could be a better person. I have realised that location is largely irrelevant. Who I'm with, what I do, not where I am, is what matters.

Shot four of my @5shotchallenge on the theme of #athome - this is not my home literally, but since we are Easter egg hunting together, and eating, laughing, chilling together, my friends are where I belong today.
Who I'm with, indeed. Just last weekend, leaning back in my chair during an Easter brunch with friends, I had a moment of utter contentment at spending time hanging out with some nice people. I have friends all over the place, which makes it sometimes hard to keep up. So being able to be in the same place with a few of them is a pleasure. Virtual connections help, like Facebook, email, Skype. Nothing beats a communal Easter egg hunt, though.

Last shot in my @5shotchallenge on a theme of #athome - I've been trying to think of the least cheesy way to say this, but there is really no way to avoid this: I am his home and he is mine.
'Home is where the heart is', they say. I have nothing to add.

01 April 2013

Jozi walking part 2 - Melville walk

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We meet at Nel's house in a quiet cul-de-sac off already quiet 4th street. We are only six, this being Nel's first walk after a long hiatus. Nel is a retired history lecturer, having taught the 'History of the Struggle' at Soweto university. She starts with an introduction to Melville:

“This is one of Johannesburg's oldest neighbourhoods. It has ten streets and eleven avenues on a hilly grid. The land was given by the philanthropist Louwrens Geldenhuys, who owned the Braamfontein farm. The suburb was named after Edward Harker Vincent Melville, the surveyor. The developer created a lot of small stands, mainly bought by Afrikaaner manual workers who had been displaced by the British scorched earth policy during the Anglo-boer war. These people didn't have much bargaining power, they were unskilled farmers.”

These were not the large stands of some other suburbs that boasted stables and farm land, Nel points out, but small plots right up to the street.

As we wander up 4th Street, Nel points out what she calls 'catapult trees'.

“Melville was developed before the advent of electricity in Joburg. When power lines were put in the trees were in the way. Instead of cutting them down they were trained to grow on either side of the cables. Unfortunately often one branch grows stronger than the other and the weaker branch breaks off eventually, making for many lop-sided trees."

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A Cape Dutch house fronted by a catapult tree
We pass some beautiful and crazy houses, one a row of Cape Dutch white gables, and another that is enclosed in a green-painted high wall, the entrance overshadowed by a seemingly pointless slab of concrete cantilevered high over the door. Nel explains that there are no restrictions on the style of building that can be erected in Melville, unlike some of the posher suburbs, which are heavily prescribed as to shape, and size, style and even height of walls and style of gate.

Our first stop is the Melville Kruisgemeente church (a Dutch Reformed church), a large red-brick building with accompanying hall. The church is built in the 20s in the Art Deco style on the site of an earlier church hall from 1913, the first of three Dutch reformed churches we are to visit on this tour.

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Melville spires - How many can you count?
I am realising that I am the only Non-South African on this tour when Nel asks what the name of the hall might be, considering it was built in 1961. I am clueless. What could the construction date have to do with the name? Jonathan immediately says:
“President's Hall.” 
Eh? Nel explains:
"Until 1961 we were a Crown colony, so everything was called Royal this and that. After 1961 we became a republic. Since then it's President's this and that instead.“

Shows what little knowledge of South African history I have.

We cross the road to walk past the simple white hall of the Methodist church, built to accommodate an alternative flavour of Christianity primarily patronised by the English. This style of simple long building, unadorned and plain, makes it easy to imagine the uncomplicated lives people lived here. Nel tells us about the way that churches and schools were the centre of the community, where people would meet each other, where events were organised and the community formed.

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The entrance to Melpark primary school
Walking around the corner we contemplate the changes that have taken place in Melville looking at the Melpark primary school, a large complex of old and new buildings and playgrounds backing onto 4th Avenue. We are looking at the back of the school, an unkempt block of red brick wall and building, stairs covered in garden waste and rubbish, a ragged fence keeping out intruders. Nel explains the history of the Melville schools:
"It used to be that when you had children, you would meet the other mothers at the baby clinic, then again when they went to the primary school together. It meant that you could get together, get support and help. Now the white kids go to the private schools in Linden and Emmarantia and the kids that go to the Melville schools are bussed in from Soweto. There is no local connection anymore. It started when the number of children dropped in the 80s.”
Painted wall at Melpark school

Nel explains. The Afrikaans speaking school (Melpark) and the English speaking school (Foundation - we visit it later on 1st Avenue) merged for lack of students. When the schools opened to all races in '94, black children preferred the English-speaking school over Afrikaans-speaking teaching.
“Eventually the Afrikaans-speaking children moved to other schools where their language was given more emphasis, and eventually the English speaking white kids were moved out to other schools as well. Now there are no white children in the two school.”
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Children's names on the Foundation school's wall
We arrive at the front of Melpark school. The entrance is on 2nd Avenue, a tall steel gate fronting a traditional metal-roofed complex of colonial buildings complete with turret. There are hand-made posters protesting sexual violence tied to the railings and taped to the windows, a school project, no doubt. Nel speaks of the time her own children went to the school, of the difference a good headmaster and school administration makes to the upkeep of the school and the quality of teaching, which is very different between this school (scruffy and poor) compared to the Foundation school on 1st Avenue. I wonder how much oversight there is, and what a difference the wealth of the parents makes, but I can see that this school is not doing well. It has an air of neglect, a lack of care and love.

Walking further up 4th Street we admire some of the old-style Melville houses, their simplicity with a green corrugated iron roof, a covered stoop furnished with a sofa, a table, some plants in pots. Many houses up here are not hidden behind a high wall, so we can peek into front gardens, some of them ingeniously decorated with flags, cacti, gravel paths, a cat.

We have reached 1st Avenue, with its second primary school, a neat little art deco brick building fronted by a cleanly-swept playground. The wall bordering the playground is decorated with the names of the kids, all written out in their own hand, some scrawled, some neatly printed: Jason, Johann, Grant, Ambrose, Francois, Marie, Jikk… Amongst the names exhortations to 'Smile!', 'Be Happy', green stars and red hearts.
“The suburb of Auckland Park starts in the middle of this road,”
 Nel points out
“but that is disputed by some, just like the borders to Emmarantia and Westdene.” 

Melville is a desirable neighbourhood now, so everyone wants to be in it.

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Deco elements gone wild

We follow 1St Avenue to 7st Street, walking past a series of quaint houses, one so stuck full of plaster decorations and fake Victorian cast iron frippery, it is hard to see the house underneath. The owners run a reclamation company and the house looks like whatever they couldn't or didn't want to sell, they stuck to the walls. Another house is an immaculate reconstruction of the colonial houses we saw in Matjesfontein, down to the sweeping metal roof topped with fine cast iron lace edges and filials. Another, much extended, property is clad in dark wood planks to look like a home straight from the Bavarian hills, window shutters, gables, doors and all. It is only missing the geranium flower pots to complete the picture.

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We stop again on the corner of 7th and 4th, Nel pointing out the Scala barber shop that has been here for 45 years, and the butcher (Fresh Meat) that closed a while back, which used to deliver a daily order, with all accounts settled at the end of the month. The book shop next door to the butcher - Out of Print Books - has recently moved to 44 Stanley, and is still going strong.

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One more church steeple
We finish the tour with a short walk across the Koppies, the nature reserve bordering Melville. It's a sudden shift from suburb to wilderness, a different view of the city, like the new view of Melville Nel has given us in the last few hours.

Nel's walk through Melville takes place once a month on a Sunday. You can reach her by email. Nel also arranges personal tours to Soweto and Pretoria.