Cruising The Four Rands of Jozi

Posted on 15 September 2021

Exploring the places that have shaped the development of our number one metropolis, Ryan Enslin alights atop the second tallest building in Africa, finds Mrs Ples, encounters a 1610er, relaxes in the green heart of the city and meets Art Deco’s Love Child.

The iconic silhouette of the Joburg CBD is instantly recognisable worldwide. Throw in an amazing African sunset and truly appreciate the view from one of Jozi’s four Rands.

Words: Ryan Enslin | Photography: supplied; Ryan Enslin

From the age of six, I have called Johannesburg home, except for a relatively short period in Cape Town. I lived with my family in ‘the South of Joburg’. Others lived in the North; I even knew a few people from the East. After my parents divorced, my dad moved to the West.

At university, I began working and socialising more in the North, home to many corporate head offices requiring my new skill-set in finance. But the spectre of the Rands remained. The inevitable question of where you lived was thrown into the conversational mix; my response, ‘the South’, was almost always met with a twitch from the Northerner.

Truth be told, back in the South, the process worked in reverse. Talk of the North, and people from that side of town invariably changed the overall tone of the conversation to one of disdain, particularly for those who thought they were better than us (which we thought was everyone from the North).

But differences there were, and I still see them today.

The Rands of Johannesburg are a collective melting pot of culture, art and people. Quite often these elements come together on the streets.

What exactly are these Rands of Joburg? Well, they are areas laid out with the central business district of Joburg at its core, and as such are known as the North-, East-, South- and West Rands of Joburg. The term ‘rand’ (Afrikaans for reef) has its origins in what is today mostly Gauteng – the Witwatersrand. A north-facing escarpment 56km long, consisting of tough quartzite rock, it is renowned for having many north-flowing rivers. Several form waterfalls, hence the name Witwaters-rand, or ridge of white waters. Each of the Rands refers to a loose grouping of neighbourhoods. The Rands are not formally designated areas, but everyone knows them.

The South Rand

Roughly, suburbs such as Glenvista, Turfontein, Lenasia and Winchester Hills fall into the South. If you are a guy you are known as a ‘boytjie from the South’. It’s further divided into the Old South (including Turfontein and La Rochelle) and the New South (including Mulbarton and Glenvista).

Historically, many people of Portuguese descent settled in this area, particularly in the Old South. Primarily immigrating from the island of Madeira and the previous Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, they brought skills such as horticulture and commerce to South Africa.

Thabo Eco Hotel E/Bar

These skills have added to the cultural texture. Well-known restaurants and corner stores abound, although urban decay is an ever-present challenge, particularly in the Old South.

The South includes significant areas of natural beauty, such as the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. Showcasing game such as zebra, red hartebeest and black wildebeest, the reserve is also home to 230 bird species and is a very popular hiking hotspot.

Looking for a day filled with good food, great conversation and some time out in nature – the boytjies and chics from the South have you covered.

Parreirinha restaurant

Gloria da Cunha
has lived in the South all her life. Together with her brother and sister, they run Parreirinha Restaurant, an institution in the area. ‘It’s the authenticity of the people that keeps me here.’

Do This

Rethink your proximity to Joburg as you go on an Eco-Drive at Thaba Eco Hotel and view the plains game that roam just 10km from the city centre. A day hike in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is perfect for those looking for a more energetic activity.
011 959 0777

Stay Here

Take in a Serengeti-esque experience in Joburg’s green heart at the Thaba Eco Hotel, which offers beautiful architecture and world-class hospitality. After watching the magnificent sunset at the E|Bar, cocktail in hand, feast on local cuisine at the Kraal Restaurant. Book a Deluxe Room, including breakfast, from R1 775 per room per night.
011 959 0777

Eat Here

If you don’t stop at Parreirinha Restaurant in La Rochelle you’re missing out. Opened in 1975 by Maria and Artur da Cunha, you have to visit this iconic spot. Hanging from the roof are countless ties, thanks to Artur’s interest in these fashion accessories. He used to cut them from the necks of patrons. For good Portuguese cooking, start with the homemade prawn cakes to get you into the spirit. Best of all the restaurant is housed in an old police station. That’s right; you dine in the old holding cells. 011 435 3809

Blow your mind viewing game at the Thaba Eco Hotel just minutes from the CBD.

The North Rand

Traditionally the monied Rand of the family, the North includes some of the wealthiest and most developed parts of Joburg, both from a housing and commercial point of view. Suburbs in the North Rand include Sandton, Bryanston, Rosebank, Randburg, Northcliff and Fourways. Lanseria International Airport is also here, as is the ever-popular Zoo Lake.

Sandton, to my mind the heart of the North, developed rapidly during the 1990s as an alternative CBD, as Joburg CBD fell into decline. But the North should not be confused only with new developments. The southern section of this rand has leafy suburbs such as Parktown North, Parkhurst and Parkview which, together with other neighbourhoods, are collectively known as The Parks. Many Edwardian-style homes adorn the streets of the Parks, which gives this area a unique feel. This, in turn, inspires a constant flow of new and interesting art galleries, eateries and weekend exploration destinations.

Enjoy stunning views of the North Rand from the tallest building in South Africa, The Leonardo.

As with much of Joburg, the North is also full of contrasts. One of the city’s poorest townships, Alexandra, is located to the east of Sandton. The legacy of apartheid spatial planning remains part of so many Joburg residents’ lives.

Notching up another title, the North boasts the tallest building in South Africa, The Leonardo, in Sandton. Towering 234m above the richest square mile in Africa, this mixed-use development offers stunning views. On the continent, it is trumped only by the Djamaa el Djazaïr, or Great Mosque of Algiers. At 265m, the mosque’s minaret is also the tallest minaret in the world.

Looking for a spot of fine dining or merely a stroll through a collaborative art gallery on a Sunday morning? Or perhaps you’re looking to join the it-crowd for Friday sundowners? The North has an overload of options for you.

Marisa Ravenscroft, a resident of the North and co-owner of Croft & Co Coffee Shop in Parkview, says it’s the feeling of village living and sense of community that keeps her a staunch fan of this side of Joburg. ‘There is always something new and exciting on offer and the support from our community really helped during the Covid lockdown.’

Do This

Go on a guided tour of one or more of the many art galleries or perhaps spend some time out at the Sandton Field and Study Centre along the Braamfontein Spruit. There are activities for the kids and a great spot to eat, offering African food to Asian, vegetarian and Italian. The abundance of hotels in Sandton and Rosebank means there is often live music later in the week and over weekends.

Stay Here

Soak up the indulgence that The Leonardo has to offer. Located in the tallest building in South Africa, it is contemporary elegance in the heart of Sandton. Unapologetic lavishness starts from R2 305 per person sharing per night.
087 536 0000


Eat Here

Try Toasted on Jan Smuts Avenue in Parkwood – located in The Parks. From ownership to empowerment at all points along the value chain, this project has women at its heart – and they serve some amazing toasted treats, too. I had the chicken banh mi with a side order of cheesy truffle wedges. Don’t be misled by the name, this quirky spot is an absolute gem.
072 541 3295, on Instagram

The West Rand

This Rand covers a vast area and includes Roodepoort, Randfontein, Krugersdorp and Muldersdrift. The towns of Carletonville and Westonaria are often included in the extended definition of the Far West Rand.

The north-east of this Rand gives access to the magnificent Magaliesberg mountains and the Sterkfontein Caves, located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

Humans have roamed these parts for more than two million years; learn about the development of early humans with a visit to the Maropeng Visitor Centre, and stroll through the award-winning exhibition.

I include the sprawling township of Soweto in the West Rand, but it could just as easily be included in the South Rand. Soweto, a syllabic abbreviation of South Western Townships, is home to more than 1.3 million residents and effectively traverses both these Rands.

Soweto is a largely misunderstood part of Joburg. But interesting things are happening here, as it seeks to define itself on more than just its apartheid legacy. As a place of renewal, urban-farming projects and pan-African culinary experiences abound, which you can explore on foot, by bicycle or even tuk-tuk. Residents are warm and welcoming and have stories to share with those eager to hear.

If you are looking to connect with a deeper sense of your heritage, the West Rand should be on your must-do list.

Orlando Towers

Lebo Malepa
is a legend in Soweto and beyond. A resident of Orlando West and owner of Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, he is inspired by everyday Sowetans. ‘I love to share their stories with my guests on walking tours, bicycle tours and tuk-tuk tours.’ Lebo also runs a farming project across the road from his backpackers and, through Saturday morning lessons for learners, collaborates with retired school teachers in the neighbourhood.

Do This

Take a 100m leap of faith as you bungee jump from the iconic Orlando Towers. Go on a walking tour with Soweto By Bike and engage a local. For adrenaline junkies, there is ziplining at the edge of the Magaliesberg in Krugersdorp. For a slower-paced activity, turn to a balloon safari with Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris further afield in this beautiful section of Joburg.

Stay Here

Revel in more than two million years of heritage when you stay at the Maropeng Boutique Hotel in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. Lounge on your private balcony with hypnotic views of the Witwatersberg and Magaliesberg, looking out as perhaps Mrs Ples once did. Rates start from R1 300 per person per night (single occupancy).
014 577 9100

Eat Here
Make a stop at the Orlando Towers, at the base of which is Chaf Pozi (tsotsi taal for hiding spot), one of Joburg’s hottest shisanyamas (isiZulu for burnt meat). Select your meat from the butchery and let the friendly staff braai it for you over hot coals, while you listen to adventure seekers scream as they bungee off the towers above. As a tour guide bringing jumpers to the towers, Zama Zwane noted the spot was sadly missing a place to eat. Today Zama is the proud owner of Chaf Pozi.
081 797 5756

The East Rand

Extending to include Germiston, Bedfordview, Edenvale, Benoni, Kempton Park and Springs, many of these towns have connections to the early mining days of Joburg. Jewish folk and others of varied European backgrounds made their homes on the East Rand, including a large contingent of Lebanese people. The East Rand is also home to OR Tambo International Airport.

Ask any Joburger about the East Rand and more often than not the first words they will utter are ‘the Vale’, short for Edenvale. It’s also referred to as ‘the 1610’ (in reference to the Edenvale postal code). Locals here band together socially and during times of need, such as the national lockdown. As a teenager from the South out and about on a weekend, the last thing you wanted to encounter was an argumentative group of young men from the Vale. It was and still is, the stuff of legend.

The Houghton Hotel

Interestingly, the town of Springs, to the very east of the East Rand, boasts the largest number of small-scale Art Deco buildings in the world after Miami in the USA. For this reason, Springs is often referred to as Art Deco’s Love Child. During the mid-1930s it was one of the six largest towns in South Africa. Sadly, Springs has not continued to enjoy this level of prosperity but still makes for great walking tours to take in the magnificence of this design style.

Looking for wholesome conversation with a local who will have your back should a riot break out? The Vale has you covered.

Every person I met along my travels around the Rands of Joburg, I asked: ‘Why do you choose to live in this part of Joburg?’ Without hesitation, each one came to the defence of their Rand, proclaiming all that was good and decent about it. Sitting back and reflecting on Joburg, I am thankful for her juxtaposition, though often extreme. And in that there is beauty.

Dylan Roelofsz,
resident and owner of Red Door Café in the heart of the Vale, says he enjoys the fact that he can call upon a fellow 1610er whenever he needs assistance. ‘The camaraderie is real here in the East.’ You don’t need to look far to see evidence of this life philosophy.

Red Door Cafè

Do This

All manner of exciting adventures are on offer, from paragliding over Springs (and those beautiful Art Deco buildings), to trying your luck at Emperors Palace or delving into the history of the Rand Revolt at the Benoni Museum. A visit to Linksfield Ridge House, home to L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, during his time in South Africa in the 1960s makes for an interesting afternoon.

Stay Here

Escape to an oasis of tranquillity at The Houghton Hotel. Voted South Africa’s Best Luxury Hotel 2020, this lifestyle destination property offers a gym, spa, casual dining at Nova Bistro, late afternoon drinks at the Astra Lounge and fine dining at Sejour Restaurant. From R2 070 per room per night.
011 032 5500

Eat Here

When in the Vale, stop off at the legendary Red Door Café. A born and bred 1610er, owner Dylan Roelofsz is passionate about good coffee and fresh food, in generous quantities. What started nine years ago with just Dylan and one runner, is today quite the spot in the East. During the lockdown, Dylan expanded his business to include an on-site deli offering uniquely South African products. Look out for the decor and gift shop.
011 453 1926

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