#MyJoburg with Nobantu Shabangu, couchsurfer and hiker

26 Mar 2024
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people who add something unique to Joburg's creative mix and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 

Nobantu Shabangu describes herself as a lover of Johannesburg, all the way from Soweto to Sandton. She was born in Zola, Soweto, and grew up in Emdeni. She loves meeting new people, locally and internationally, so much so that she regularly hosts couchsurfers who make their way to Joburg. This piqued our interest. She’s a Science and Art of Healing and Learning teaching assistant at the University of the Witwatersrand for first-year medical students, loves creative writing, and can be found hiking in her spare time. Her current fascination is with waterfalls and she often explores trails beyond Joburg. When not outdoors, she loves a good museum and art gallery visit.

Tell us about couchsurfing...
I see couchsurfing as a way to travel through locals’ eyes; the exchange embodies ubuntu. The Couchsurfing platform allows travellers to connect and offer a hospitable experience through personable hosting services sans the high cost of hotels and tour guides. It is for the non-fussy traveller who wants valuable experiences more than comfortable bedding and room service. I fell in love with it through a friend who hosted international visitors and would often ask me to advise on short tours of the attractive and authentic spots in the city or Soweto. Because I enjoyed it so much, I offered my own services because I felt connected to the rest of the world through the travellers I met. This allowed me to positively alter the narrative of Johannesburg.

"There is a willpower emanating from Jozi residents that stems from their spirit to be undefeated."

What's the first place in the city that you take the couchsurfers you host?
Kwa Mai Mai and then the Maboneng precinct [where you'll find the] Living Room. Kwa Mai Mai market is a very energetic space so it’s best to start there, especially if it is month end.

What are the spots foreign travellers are most drawn to in Joburg in your experience, and why do you think that is?
Soweto and shisanyamas that play amapiano or host live amapiano DJ acts. I think such spots allow them to immerse themselves in the youth culture of dance, live music, good food, and good beer. Globally South Africans rank high as innovators of dance music and dance moves so foreign travellers will not miss the opportunity to have this experience first-hand.

As a born and bred Joburger, what is your all-time favourite spot in the city?
Living Room. The views of the city are unbeatable, and the vibes never disappoint.
Fun times on the Living Room rooftop. Photo: Supplied.

What makes you stay here?
I stay in the city because I feel alive in it. There is a certain vibration that cannot be felt when I am in the other cities around the country. There is a willpower emanating from Jozi residents that stems from their spirit to be undefeated. Mostly I stay because Jozi is an artist bloc and artists are like lilies that grow in muddy waters.

In what ways would you say Joburg is a friendly city towards travellers?
Joburg is friendly in its treatment of travellers as they are considered friends before anything else. Walking tours are available from Ponte City, Curiosity Backpackers is right in Maboneng, and then there is the couchsurfing community that will open your eyes to exciting, unknown paths and undervalued places in the city like knowing the good magwinya [tasty street food, that is similar to a doughnut] spots.

Home is...
A cosy studio behind a Food Lovers Market in Braamfontein. From there I enjoy 360-degree views of the M1 South which leads to Soweto and the M1 North which heads to Sandton. On the other side, I can see the beautifully manicured lawns of the Johannesburg metro building and Joburg Theatre in contrast to the crumbling buildings that follow one after the other to FNB Bank City in the CBD. 
Niq Mhlongo's new book The City is Mine. Photo: Niq Mhlongo via Instagram.

One song on your Joburg soundtrack that either is about Joburg or makes you think about this city?
iPlan by Dlala Thukzin featuring Zaba and Sykes. It captures the hustle spirit of Joburgers and is a good workout song.

Your favourite Joburg author or favourite Joburg book?
Niq Mhlongo. He writes without a filter and his short stories capture the unique atmosphere I grew up in, in Soweto. He also writes boldly about the numerous and immense conflicts faced by the urban youth, grappling with what freedom means. He has a new book coming out this year titled The City is Mine.

What is a surprising thing people might learn about Joburg by having a conversation with you?
There are so many. For one, the different art-based institutions that act as safe spaces for inner-city youth such as Lefika La Phodiso [an organisation offering community art counselling training in Parktown]. There is 27 Boxes, a shopping centre made entirely of containers. Or, the Melville Koppies, a hiking spot which has the history of human origins etched in the stones and soil.
The unique 27 Boxes in Melville. Photo: Supplied.

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
Melville. After all these years it remains a mellow yet inviting suburb that is intent on the regeneration of artists and communal living.

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
Neck & Deck Restaurant as you get to feed the giraffes and see the Big Five without leaving the province. Orlando Towers, Chaf Pozi, and Mandela House Museum in Soweto. You cannot leave Joburg without visiting Soweto and indulging in a high-adrenaline activity like bungee jumping off the towers. Lastly, Rooftop at Hallmark House for the latest in art, fashion, and music trends.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
There are so many but quail stew with roasted vegetables from Restaurant Mosaic [now closed] takes the cup. The meat was very rich which I did not expect. Another memorable meal was fried plantain and pepper stew that a couchsurfer bought from a Nigerian food vendor in Jozi.
Adrenaline junkies need to visit the Orland Towers in Soweto. Photo: Gauteng Tourism. 

If you could buy one Joburg building which would it be?
The building on 11 Diagonal Street aptly named the Diamond Building. I would turn it into an independent library for postgraduate students and a conference centre that also houses the biggest urban greenhouses and indoor waterfall in the city.

"[A Joburger] exhibits an open spirit and humorous attitude, is interested in current developments, and has pride in the city and its people."

If you were the Joburg mayor for one day (average tenure) what would you change?
I would put into law that littering is punishable by a one-year jail sentence and that blocking drainage systems by deliberately dumping litter into the ports can result in a lifetime ban from the City of Johannesburg. 

Favourite name given to denizens of the city and why?
Joburger. Because we have many layers that make us juicy and filling.
A favourite Joburg spot is The Bioscope at 44 Stanley. Photo: Johannesburg In Your Pocket.

What makes someone a Joburger?
Exhibiting an open spirit and humorous attitude, being interested in current developments, and having pride in the city and its people.

What do you love most about Joburg?
The Bioscope at 44 Stanley. The local comedic line-ups are a way to not only relax and de-stress but also offer a moment to reflect on unique yet commonly shared South African experiences.

What do you least like about Joburg?
The litter, the mismanagement of buildings that have more than 100 years of history, and the minimised importance of buildings as archives of the city and history of South Africa. The rising number of unhoused members of society and blatant lawlessness.

"Think of Joburg as a theme park. There will be rides that you will consistently want to revisit and others where once was enough."

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Think of Joburg as a theme park. There will be rides that you will consistently want to revisit and others where once was enough. What matters is that you let your curiosity lead you. Don't look up too much while walking unless with a guide and when someone asks what the time it is tell them that you do not know; do not attempt to pull out any of your devices to check the time for them.

One Joburg personality whom you would honour with the freedom of the city if you could, and why? 
My friend and neighbour Kasonde from Zambia who is doing a PhD at Wits on the History of South African theatre and archiving the voices of early theatre, their descendants, and progeny. He has a passion for the history of Johannesburg and its current developments.
The colourful Karaoke Kong in Melville. Photo: Karaoke Kong via Instagram.

The perfect weekend in Joburg includes...
An early start with a walking or jogging buddy at the Johannesburg Zoo for The Zoo Trot followed by a tour at the Origins Centre at the University of Witwatersrand, a lunch picnic at Emmarentia Dam, the afternoon at The Beach Rivonia, and ending the night at Karaoke Kong in Mellville. Sunday morning, a walk at the Melville Koppies and a Sunday afternoon show at the Market Theatre followed by sundowners at Living Room in Maboneng.

Three words that describe this city.
Formidable, colourful, and defiant.

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg with Tšepang Molisana, oenophile and property developer
#MyJoburg with Cathy Gatland, founder of Urban Sketchers Johannesburg
#MyJoburg with Ufrieda Ho, author and journalist

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