19 February 2014 by Denise Slabbert

The high life in Jozi

The guys from Dlala Nje give us another view of Johannesburg from Ponte City, one of Johannesburg’s most iconic buildings.

The exterior of the iconic Ponte building. Image by Ryan James/Darling Lama Productions

Mike ‘Loopy’ Luptak and Nickolaus Bauer are passionate about Johannesburg, and the views from their apartments in Ponte City are a good reason to be infatuated with this city, which is regarded as the biggest urban forest in the world.

View from Mike Luptak's apartment in Ponte City. Image by Ryan James/Darling Lamaproductions

These two urban evangelists are energised by a passion for where they live (and their surrounding community) and have formed Dlale Nje – 'a games and cultural emporium' that also offers tours in and around the city.

Its Ponte/Hillbrow tour starts at the Dlala Nje centre, where visitors get a rundown of what lies ahead. They then visit either Mike's or Nickolaus’s apartment (depending on who is giving the tour) and learn a bit about the history of this building, which has had more lives than the anorexic stray cats that roam the nearby streets.

The 54-storey cylindrical skyscraper is as much a part of Jo'burg’s skyline as the mine dumps. It was built by architect Rodney Grosskopff in 1976, and has gone through a number of incarnations, from glam high-rise hangout of the rich and famous, to druglord headquarters and dilapidated lodgings, to its current status as a place where predominantly families and urbanites like Luptak and Bauer – and their neighbours from all over the African continent – live and thrive.

Luptak giving an introductory talk from the kitchen counter. Image by Ryan James/Darling Lama

Luptak says the building’s resilience holds magic for him. ‘The fact that it’s gone through such a roller-coaster life from the time that it was built to where we stand today, coming through the apartheid era in 1976 when it was built and was only for affluent people, to a place that accommodates everyone ...’

‘Loopy’ Luptak loves a good story, and he’s happy to reveal his ‘life lessons from living in Ponte’, as well as describing the timeline of the building in visual language and amusing anecdotes that paint a vivid picture.

The mix of accents in the lift going down to ‘the Core’ of the building gives some indication of the diversity of people living in Ponte City. The Core is at the base of the building. Rumours say that this area was once piled full of garbage; nowadays it’s a strange place where the aforementioned stray cats hang out (and it could double as an amazing location for a post-apocalyptic movie).

The Core of Ponte City. Image by Ryan James/Darling Lama

On the streets of Hillbrow

For Luptak and Bauer, you can’t really understand the history of Ponte if you don’t get a taste of the surrounding area. Hillbrow has a reputation for being decidedly ‘dodgy’, but Luptak says a lot of this is perception – although he does caution participants on the tour to be aware of their surroundings and not lag behind.

The tour is gritty and real, with no bells and whistles. ‘I call it an immersion experience,’ he says of the walkabout tour of Hillbrow. And it certainly is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get journey through the streets – from kids playing soccer in the park, to dodgy strip clubs and abandoned buildings, to street hawkers selling anything from tyre takkies (sneakers) to shiny red tomatoes and outsized cabbages that go for ‘cheap cheap’.

Luptak is an ace storyteller and tales of the Hillbrow ‘Facebook’, the old post office and the 'knock shops' are favourites.

The tour ends with a visit to a shebeen for a quart of beer on a shiny stoep (verandah) with a view of the street, before heading back to home base, Ponte City.

Walking tour of Johannesburg by night. Image courtesy of Dlala Nje

Taste of Yeoville

Bauer and Luptak continue to expand Dlala Nje according to demand, and another tour that is proving very popular with visitors is the Taste of Yeoville culinary experience.

The Dlala Nje Facebook page describes it best:

‘We begin with sundowners on the picturesque Yeoville heath adjacent the water tower, to admire Johannesburg's legendary sunsets.

'Then we'll move onto the zesty and energising Kin Malebo village for some Congolese kwasakwasa (a type of dance). While shaking our hips, we'll snack on pesa-nzela grilled tilapia and wash down it down with a chibuku (home-made beer) or two. From there we'll head on over to the Cameroonaise seafood restaurant for some of the best West African-styled grilled fish you'll ever eat.

'We'll wine, we'll dine and be blown away by the hospitality of a place filled with people with warm hearts and enticing souls.

'You'll be surprised by all this little gem of a suburb has to offer. But, best leave your prejudices at home.'

Leaving prejudice at home is the essential ingredient to the Dlala Nje experience, and according to Luptak, ‘Our tours are perception-changers. What we do is provide the opportunity for people to come and take a look, and to make decisions for themselves.’

Essential info

Dlala Nje hosts its Ponte/Hillbrow tours every Saturday from 10am to 1pm. These tours can be hosted on additional days during the week as long as there are six participants or more. The culinary tours take place every second and last Sunday of the month.

Dlala Nje is situated at Shop 1, Ponte City, Hillbrow, Gauteng, South Africa

You can contact info@dlalanje.org, or visit its Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/DlalaNje

Tilapia on the braai. Image courtesy of Dlala Nje

Category: Attractions, Culture & History, Food & Wine

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