By Gavin Weale, managing director Live Magazine SA
It’s awkward. A city stuck between one disturbing past, two names, and several diverse and conflicting identities. It’s the city named after an Afrikaner folk hero and founded on the principle that God had granted the land to the Boers. But change is afoot as Pretoria exorcises past demons and begins to develop its own contemporary identity. Today, it’s the stronghold of ANC administration, populated by well-to-do black bureaucrats, a city of leafy boulevards traversed by foreign diplomats and their families.
In a country swept forward by attempts at transformation, the capital could have been a candidate for being left in the Highveld dust. The city’s name was approved to change to Tshwane in 2005, but with the matter still under review, the old seat of apartheid power is still known as Pretoria. Modern developments such as Freedom Park are reconciling the ghosts of the past.
Calmer but slightly balmier than its conjoined-twin city Johannesburg, in spring it reveals itself with a fierce burst of breathtaking purple jacaranda. In the centre, grand buildings line historic Church Square, with its statue of late 19th-century Boer leader Paul Kruger, while, to the south, the Voortrekker monument watches over a diverse population in constant flux. The city centre’s architecture gives a sense of history that will be familiar to a European visitor, and walking the inner metropole is an ideal way to soak up this vantage point of history.
A large student population means the CBD (central business district) has a hubbub of rowdy bars serving garish shots in the colours of the national flag: head for the joints around Hatfield Square. To balance out the rugby and testosterone, Pretoria also attracts ambitious and politically active young people from all over the country, and a characterful multicultural scene is bubbling up. In particular, fashion mavericks such as the Social Market have captured an avant-garde slice of contemporary urban South Africa, with happenings that even Johannesburg’s archest trendies doff their fedoras at. SM’s regular markets on the first Sunday of each month at the Mushroom Lounge (Francis Baard St, Sunnyside) are worth building a city break around.
Visitors can use Pretoria as a staging post for trips out to the breathtaking wilderness of the provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, or the pretty hills of Magaliesburg and Hartbeespoort to the west. But for an adventure closer by, get a solid local connection to help you seek out some proper township funk and DJ Spoko’s Pretoria-grown “bacardi” style of house music (see below). Activating those friends-of-friends will get you out there, beyond your comfort zone, and a Sunday afternoon jam in Atteridgeville township will reveal the real beating pulse of South African culture.
Music and clubs
By DJ and producer Spoko
I started off playing music at a shebeen in Atteridgeville. We used to do these random street bashes where we closed the street and put the tent up. Three- and four-day bashes. My sound is bacardi – I call it noisy music, or “destruction”.
To experience bacardi music, I would take people to where we do this thing each and every Sunday. It happens from 6pm on Sundays and Mondays. It goes to different places with the tent and the DJs, so it moves around Atteridgeville. We play bacardi all the way.
The party is called Dispin – it means to “spin”. I don’t play there any more – I’ve left it for young DJs to promote themselves. Young, up-and-coming DJs who play the style that I play – they are like my students. The artists to watch out for are two boys who call themselves Maben10, and there’s also Cool Candy – but the list is long. These are the guys who used to chill with me and I used to teach them the 1-2-3. During the week, Atteridgeville is slow, but on Friday you can go to the Vintage Corner, a very nice pub that plays house music and R&B. It’s a legit club where you can go and chill.
In the city, everything starts happening on Friday in Sunnyside, the party strip where there’s clubs like Times 4, a place that has major dance-offs, and House 22, a basic joint that is the mecca of deep house music in Pretoria, with some of the biggest DJs playing, like Vinny Da Vinci, Christos, Glen Lewis, Julian Gomez. And they say our music is too noisy!
Taliban Pub is where big house artists play, local and international … like Black Coffee, one of Africa’s most influential DJs and producers, and house legend Alton Miller from the US. It’s in Ga-Rankuwa, a little way out of the city, but has a young and mixed crowd. It’s a big club that’s grown out of someone’s back yard, and also puts on live music by the likes of Nathi Mankayi.
There’s also a big event, the Annual Cooler Boxing Day that happens every 26 December in Atteridgeville. It’s a huge outdoor festival held at the Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe stadium that 10,000 people partied at last year. It goes on until late with many different artists, including underground jazz, and bacardi DJs. Last year, they had South African rapper K.O and Heavy K playing.”
Eating and drinking
By Khanya Mzongwana, AKA Yulu Ishii, founder of the Off the Wall Pop-Up Restaurant
A lot of the most innovative and interesting places to eat in Pretoria are actually in the suburbs. A great place to start, where you can get a great beer as well as top food, is Capital Craft Beer Academy in the eastern suburb of Lynnwood. It serves unbelievably good ribs and has 216 beers in its artisanal selection. Another place that has recently opened up in the same neighbourhood is Forkies – a cute spot located next door to the biggest hipster bar in town, Lucky Rodrigo, which serves an unspeakably delicious brisket calzone. I also really love Burger Bistro and Grounded at Echo, both in the northern suburb of Villeria. The latter is part of the Echo Youth Development scheme, a non-profit organisation that supports vulnerable youth in South Africa. Grounded at Echo is a gorgeous coffee shop with arguably the best coffee and certainly the best pistachio cake in the city. It’s a lovely community-based, family-owned business and the perfect creative workspace.
Off The Wall Pop-Up Restaurant is a project my partner Sakhile Ndlazi and I started up in June 2014, where we occupy alternative food spaces (like Grounded at Echo, Pure Cafe in Colbyn, +27 Cafe in Hatfield and Poolside in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg). I prepare dinner and he curates the sound waves for the evening. It’s a really cosy affair – we do it once a month and seat 50 people, basing each occasion around a different cuisine. Our next pop-up will be showcasing Asian street food.
Fermier has just opened its doors in the leafy eastern suburb of the Willows and offers seasonal, responsibly sourced food. It’s a really exciting venture, particularly because it’s a sustainable restaurant and pretty much everything is grown and reared on the property, from fish to vegetables. It serves an excellent seven-course menu for R450 (about £20), which is good value considering the quality of ingredients and presentation, ambience and knock-out flavour combinations. On the current menu, which will be changed seasonally, the duck rillette is exquisite, as well as the bream served with roast lime, edamame beans and olives. This place is an absolute must-visit.
Thirty minutes’ drive out of Pretoria to the east is the old diamond mining town of Cullinan. Here you’ll find a restaurant called Albizia, where a culinary artist, Lientjie Wessels, serves a fantastic multi-course lunch on the porch of the home she shares with her husband Robert. Surrounded by the beautiful landscapes of the De Tweedespruit valley, Albizia stands on its own, literally and figuratively. Wessels has a diverse, well-travelled palate with a great knack for flavours and she has a very personal approach to dining and serving each course. And the easy-going and homely farm atmosphere is great for a break from the city.
Arts and culture
By Pieter Mathews, architect and convenor of Cool Capital Biennale
The 80km Tshwane Rapid Transport bus system (also called the A Re Yeng) has site-specific artwork at its stations, including the traditional Ndebele patterns of Ester Mahlangu; Diane Victor’s The History Column, comprised of mosaic portraits of resistance heroes such as Nana Sita; and Banele Khoza’s The Steel Tree, which pays homage to Pretoria’s iconic jacaranda trees. The art is presented on 11-metre totem poles, and makes up a huge urban art collection. Apart from their artistic merits they are also very useful to visitors for orientation purposes.
The Old Synagogue is where the Rivonia Trial was held (between 1963 and 1964, 10 leaders of the African National Congress, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were tried for acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid government). My firm designed and constructed a Memory Box bus station at the synagogue, acting as a convergence point for the history of South Africa. The glass exterior reflects the image of the Old Synagogue back to the viewer. There are other Memory Box stations – all part of the A Re Yeng system – that were specifically designed for sensitive historical precincts. At the synagogue we did not want to compete with the ornate architecture of the historic building and opted for a simple box with viewing panes.
Paul Kruger gave land to the Jewish community, and they built these Byzantine onion domes close to Church Square where the Palace of Justice is. We used to call it Victorian architecture, but it should be called eclectic Wilhelmiens, because it has a more Dutch feel.
There’s a website called dutchfootsteps.com that you can use as a good reference for a walk. At the Palace of Justice the holding cells where Nelson Mandela was held can still be viewed, and the Freedom Charter, which came into being in 1955, was handwritten in the cell below.
There’s the perception that downtown is dangerous, but if you’re smart and don’t look like a tourist, it’s adventurous! There are free walking tours organised by 021central with in-depth information on some of the amazing architecture of historic buildings and, where possible, access is given to some of the rooftops to get a birds-eye view of the city. A lot of the buildings from the late-modernism period during apartheid were inspired by Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian communist architect, which seems somewhat ironic.
If you like contemporary architecture, visit Freedom Park, next to the Voortrekker Monument, a massive structure built in commemoration of the eponymous Afrikaners who left the Cape between 1835 and 1854 to settle inland. For the Cool Capital Biennale, the management allowed us to light the monument up in pink.
A good outing is to Marabastad, in west Pretoria, which has a very rich history. The area is much like District Six (in Cape Town) and Sophiatown (Johannesburg), whose inhabitants were also forcefully relocated to single-race townships under the Group Areas Act. Marabastad’s black inhabitants were forced to settle in Atteridgeville in 1945, the coloured residents in Eersterus in 1963, and the Indian residents in Laudium (1968). Unlike other neighbourhoods where forced removals took place, the buildings were not bulldozed. The landmarks include a mosque and a Hindu temple, so it’s quite diverse. You get the experience of Hindu tailors, taxi ranks, and muti (traditional medicine) shops. It’s a very underrated place.
Fashion and shopping
By Yoliswa XO, stylist and blogger
The style scene in Pretoria is beginning to find its own voice, and we’re definitely not just echoing what’s happening in Johannesburg any longer. Trendsetters take vintage pieces and give them a fresh look. Vintage clothing is relatively cheap in Pretoria and people can source their clothes easily at open markets – that’s why it’s so popular.
There’s a really good pop-up vintage market at +27 Cafe, which happens once a month; and then there are the flea markets around the State Theater in the CBD. The Marabastad market is also excellent if you’re looking for deals and aren’t afraid to be in the edgier side of town. You can get food and fresh produce from street vendors, and second-hand clothes too. One of the best charity shops specialising in second-hand clothing at super low prices is Sungardens Hospice Charity Shop.
At the higher end, Mick Owen is a Pretoria-based designer who is making waves in the industry, and has showcased his women’s “athleisure” and minimal colourful cuts at various South African Fashion Weeks in the past few years. We Wear Gems by Dhrital Kalan, from Laudium, is an indie-boho jewellery line – chokers, bracelets, septums, bindis – with Indian, gypsy and vintage influences that I’m obsessed with. Cop Capital is a brilliant sneaker and concept store that also stocks South African street apparel like 2Bop and Sol-Sol and 32 Clothing.
By Angus Taylor, sculptor
Pretoria is a bit of an oasis – it’s lush and green in the summer rainy season, but with a lot of sunshine. We’re at a high altitude (1,339 metres – just a couple of metres lower than Ben Nevis) with some hills, but the terrain is fairly flat and there are no large peaks. This makes it ideal for mountain biking – the fastest growing sport in South Africa. The best place for an introductory ride is around the Voortrekker Monument – there’s a 12km route with spectacular views across the savannah bush veld. There are places that offer a whole mountain biking experience with bikes for hire included in the price.
In the valley below Pretoria, 5km to the south, is the Groenkloof nature reserve, which offers even the most novice biker the opportunity to ride between kudu, giraffe, zebra, and blesbok. Atop the Salvokop Hill, opposite, is Freedom Park, containing a series of memorial sites constructed in a brutalist architectural style by the late Jeremy Rose and others. The structures were built in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and are linked by themes of freedom and human rights.
Twelve miles north of Pretoria is a dedicated mountain bike park, Buffelsdrift MTB, inside a nature reserve with routes ranging from 7km to 40km through bush veld. All have wonderful panoramic views and the chance to view zebra, kudu and impala among other wildlife. Daily entry is R40 (about £2).
The Nirox Sculpture Park, Cradle of Humankind – which features my sculpture, Layers of Being, a giant kneeling figure made of rammed earth – is a network of limestone caves in which have been found several fossils of plants, animals and hominids. It is in a very beautiful setting, an hour’s drive to the south-west of the city. Visitors can admire a great diversity of sculptures and installations as they stroll through hills and grassy valleys on beautifully kept pathways meandering between streams and dams. There is ample room between permanent artworks by the likes of Richard Long, Willem Boshoff, Caroline Bittermann and Valerio Berruti that give the viewer opportunity to cleanse their palate before the next visual experience.
I sometimes go for an early morning walk at the Mongena game lodge (pictured below) in Dinokeng game reserve, 30 minutes’ drive to the north of Pretoria. The big five can be seen here, as well as a great number of bird species. Personally, I am quite content with just the aromatic flora and the beautiful trees – tambotie, combretums, and my favourite: the witgat (in Afrikaans), mohlôpi (in Sotho), or boscia albitrunca. The animals are a bonus.
Readers’ tips and Instagram shots
Pretoria National Botanical Gardens Just three miles from the centre to the east, these gardens make a lovely day out. There are restaurants and picnic areas. A paved nature trail gives access to the fascinating natural vegetation on the ridge, which boasts a diversity of indigenous fauna and flora. Fifty hectares of the total area is devoted to developed garden, using almost exclusively South African plants. Nearly all of the flowering plant species can be seen, including 50% of the country’s tree species, making the gardens a botanical tapestry. There are savanna and forest biomes for visitors to spend time in. Different themed gardens are continuously being developed. And adult admission is just R26 (£1.20).ID3294767
Eastwoods Tavern, near Loftus Versveldsosaties (skewers).ID3294767
News Cafe, HatfieldID3294767
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