Regeneration in Johannesburg has seen the transformation of areas that, for years, were declared no-go zones as a result of urban decay and crime. The Maboneng Precinct east of the city is one of these transformed areas.
Maboneng, a Sotho word meaning “place of light”, is a fitting name for a district that has fast become a centre of creative energy for Johannesburg’s urban artists.
With a mix of restaurants, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, and retail and studio space, the precinct draws the inner-city public as well as the chic, art-going crowd of the city’s suburbs, bringing life back to this downtown Johannesburg neighbourhood. The area also drives Johannesburg tourism within the local and international tourist markets.
In 2008, developer Jonathan Liebmann bought old construction offices and warehouses dating from the 1900s. He collaborated with acclaimed sustainable architect Enrico Daffonchio to transform the industrial space into a cultural oasis that is now Arts on Main, one of Maboneng’s two main building complexes.
Arts on Main has a historical look and feel – it has retained its industrial aspect, with concrete-coloured walls and a metal fire escape that rises up to the second level of the building. Visitors can take in the view of the urban landscape from the second-level metal balcony, while listening to the industrial noise generated by the factories that still operate in the area.
The complex includes a combination of advertising agencies, retail space, art galleries and private studios. World-renowned South African artist William Kentridge was one of the first tenants to buy a space in the building. Other organisations in the building include the Goodman Gallery Projects and local design brand Love Jozi.
Other arts-focused destinations in Maboneng include The Agog and David Krut workshop; a record and CD store; a collectables shop; a printmaking studio; Playful Native video production company; a photographic studio; and a talent agency for aspiring actors and models.
For those into food and drink, try some coffee or delicious deli sandwiches from Canteen, which is set in a gravel courtyard filled with lemon and olive trees.
Maboneng also offers a speciality grocery store; coffee shops; SMACK! Republic brewery; a craft distillery; a smoothies and coffee shop; the Living Room eatery, bar and function venue; an artisanal bakery; and the opportunity to sample value-for-money Mexican food, Greek souvlaki, Argentine asado and authentic Ethiopian cuisine.
For after-work drinks with friends, hit Lenin’s Vodka Bar, or if the sushi mood grabs you, The Blackanese’s African-Asian creations are always fresh and flavoursome. Or you can take home an authentic braai dish from Sha’p Braai.
Visitors can also shop for quality art books and designer clothing, vintage wear, sneakers, local and international accessories, urban gear and traditional wedding garments. There are also nail bars; skincare, hair and beauty product outlets; and plenty of opportunity for boutique shopping ahead of a night on the town.
Main Street Life, the younger of Maboneng’s two developments, is a transformed 1970s industrial building that houses a variety of establishments. It opened its doors to the public in 2010.
The top floor of Main Street Life is taken up by the 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel, where each individually designed room represents one of the past 12 decades of Johannesburg’s history. It's interesting and artsy accommodation in Gauteng.
Besides the hotel, Main Street Life also includes apartments, a rooftop events venue and retail stores. On the ground floor, Johannesburg’s independent cinema, the Bioscope, screens local, international and classic films that don’t usually make it to the mainstream cinema circuit.
There is a wide variety of events planned each month in Maboneng. Expect documentaries at The Bioscope, RUN Maboneng community runs, Maboneng City Cyclists on Thursdays, storytelling, art exhibitions, night markets, jazz sessions, the Sunday Market on Main, rooftop barbecues and dance evenings. Find out what’s happening here.
Access to Maboneng is via the Joe Slovo interchange off the M2 highway. Secure street parking comes with 24-hour guards. There’s also a dedicated shuttle service in the area that runs every half an hour from 8am to 7pm.