Dlala Nje, a walking tour company based in the infamous inner-city Joburg tower block Ponte in Hillbrow, have taken things to the next level during the South African lockdown, creating an astonishingly immersive 360-degree walking tour experience that you can watch and engage with from the comfort of home.
Filmed in HD with surround sound, the virtual reality This is Hillbrow tour takes a 'digital stroll' with a professional Dlala Nje tour guide through busy Hillbrow. The tour visits local landmarks that would ordinarily be on the route in one of Dlala Nje's walks such as Hillbrow's bustling high street Pretoria Street, the immense Telkom Tower (Africa's tallest building) and of course the Ponte building which is Africa's tallest residential building and an iconic landmark on the Joburg skyline. While listening to the guide you can then use your cursor (we recommend watching on a computer or laptop) to scroll 360 degrees around you and watch the world moving by.
This becomes a particularly fascinating experience as passersby stare curiously into the cameras (the guide ever a consummate professional remains entirely unperturbed), shoppers browse the market stalls, children play and women sit and chat on street corners. The focus is on the guide and his storytelling but the 360-technology allows you to let your eyes wander and observe the passing of time and ordinary life around you. While the 'tour' itself is just over 25 minutes we watched for more than an hour, delighting in the chance to rewind and look at certain street corners again from different angles and to soak in the sound and light of a Hillbrow rooftop at sunset.
Created during lockdown this 25-minute interactive film represents not only an adventurous step into the global world of 'virtual tours' and a chance to learn more about one of South Africa's most misunderstood communities, it also stands as a vital snapshot of a neighbourhood during one of the most extraordinary moments of our lifetime. High-rise Hillbrow and neighbouring Berea are among the most densely populated urban areas in Africa and even in lockdown the streets still bristle with the busy comings and goings of residents and visitors. It is, of course, the addition of masks that reminds you that all is not quite as usual.
The guide's commentary talks to the nature of life in contemporary Hillbrow, while also outlining the recent history of this area whose changing fortunes and demographics has been so reflective of the turbulence of the past 30 years of Joburg history.
With this combination of historical narrative and vivid, high-definition filming of the city's streets, the Dlala Nje team have created an experience that goes far beyond the virtual tour dreams of the average tourist board. This is a record of history, being made as it happens. A story of the past and present being told together, that in the future will be looked back on with fascination by the next generation of Joburg hustlers.
HOW TO WATCH THE DLALA NJE VIRTUAL REALITY TOURTo access the interactive film you need to buy a ticket from the Dlala Nje website, once you have received and registered your 'ticket' from Howler you will then have access to watch online.
As with all Dlala Nje experiences, proceeds from the sale of tickets go towards supporting Dlala Nje's two community centres inside the Ponte tower in Hillbrow, and should you wish to do so there is also the opportunity to donate more money to the organisation when you buy your ticket.
Tickets cost R260. Get your ticket online at dlalanje.org/tours/virtual-reality/59