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Day trippers brave enough to look past the tree lined streets and bustling metropolis that is the city, will find some of Tshwane’s biggest and best adventures. Hidden in plain sight is incredible architecture, inspiring empowered communities and musicians sustained by the exuberance of the world around them. These are just a few of the things you’ll find on a trip through Tshwane’s townships.
The best way to discover the townships that ring the city is to drive through them. To stop, get out, have a meal and drink in the vibrancy and colour all around you. Enjoy the unconventional elegance of street style and sights, sounds and aromas of life lived to the full.
Twenty minutes from the State Theatre in Tshwane you will find Atteridgeville’s historic United Reform Church. Built as a ‘shining city on a hill’ the former Dutch Reformed Church building hosted clandestine meetings of the Atteridgeville/Saulsville Residents Association as they worked to mobilise resistance against the Apartheid regime. Testament to Atteridgeville’ Struggle credentials can be found in the Atteridgeville Cemetery where Kgomotso Ditsego and Irene Phalatsi, among the first casualties of the 1976 student uprising, were laid to rest.
One of the oldest townships in South Africa, Atteridgeville has evolved beyond its purpose as temporary housing for workers. It has grown up into a vibrant artistic community that nurtured some of the most important Jazz musicians of the African music renaissance.
The Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Park features memorial pathways, an amphitheatre and gallery documenting the history of the townships fight against oppression. Pride of place is a statue of Mahlangu across from the home painted in traditional isiNdebele colours to honour the ultimate sacrifice the young man made.
At the end of your journey of discovery try the springbok potjie at Mamelodi’s Ko-Legiza Garden Café. From backyards and shebeens and cafes the aromas of African kitchens and real South African food fill your nostrils. Shisa nyama, skop and umngqusho. Whole chickens braaied over open flames, each lathered in a secret sauce.
A little over 50 km’s north of downtown Pretoria lies Hammanskraal. The sort of small community too easily overlooked if you’re travelling to the game lodges and farms that draw visitors to the region. Not stopping and you miss the real warmth and hospitality of people that think themselves more country cousin than city slicker.
Visit the Ditsong Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum and discover the history of agriculture and the lives of farmers. Learn how to make bread in an outside oven, milk a cow or make candles while the kids climb around farm equipment or wander through the yards petting animals. If you’re a fan, keep an eye out for the annual Mampoer Festival held in May or June each year. Traditionally distilled liquor and liqueurs are celebrated, judged, and sold during a day filled with fun and music.
Don’t be fooled by the lack of charm of downtown Hammanskraal, its beauty is there to be discovered. It is the gateway to Dinokeng – the Place of Rivers – where the Olifants and Limpopo Rivers run. Here you will find breath taking beauty and game farms where the Big 5 roam free.
Dinokeng is Africa under one uplifting celestial blanket. You can stay in one of the regions ecovisitor resorts, enjoy the birder paradise that is Roodeplaat Dam and have your taste buds awoken in any one of the many fine dining restaurants.
Military history buffs bypass Cullinan and head to Onverwacht, site of an important battle between the British and Afrikaner forces in 1902. Take the guided battle ground tour that ends at the memorial rebuilt in 2002 over the graves of soldiers killed in the battle.
Onverwacht is home to a community who identify themselves as Black Afrikaners and believe they live on “bloedgrond”, or ground earned through ancestral sacrifice. For architecture buffs, a visit to the Verenigde Gereformeerde Kerk of Onverwacht with its old church bell mounted on poles at its entrance is reason enough to visit the town. In its surroundings it looks more less like a church serving its small community and more like a cathedral in the veld.
If you have a day or are going to be close for a while and want to get your bearings, come walk the streets. Get drawn in by the local vibe. Discover iconic sites and off the beaten path hidden gems. Meet the people. Relax. Drink a cold beer and enjoy the little things that make the townships of Tshwane unique.
The annual Jazz in the Park festival celebrates the communities jazz roots or you can join other jazz fans, drink a beer, listen to live music or talk about your favourite records at Janicky’s Pub and Restaurant, home to the best known jazz collectors club in the township.
To the east lies Mamelodi, a township that has used its history to become something truly inspired. The most famous of Tshwane’s townships, it has given the world freedom fighters like Solomon Mahlangu, important musicians like Don Laka, Vusi Mahlasela and Philip Tabane, poet and playwright Themba ka Nyathi and, of course the Brazilians, Mamelodi Sundowns.
True to its name Mamelodi, which means “mother of melodies”, has nurtured musicians throughout its existence and gave birth to a unique jazz style called molombo. This sound that emanates from homes and taverns is a soup of local influences that include mbaquanga, Pedi and Ndebele drumming, Zionist Baptist gospel music and African jazz guitar.
The musical tradition lives on in events through the year. Moretele Park brings together superstars, up and coming musicians, locals, and visitors for a day of good vibes, dancing and an opportunity to picnic in a venue that celebrates the history of the township.
Ga-Rankuwa – meaning ‘We are not taken” brings you a community where you will find families enjoying themselves, neighbours visiting sharing food at backyard braais and children playing on its streets. Tshwane’s newest old township nurtured the business talents of Patrice Motsepe, the artistry of Simon Lekgetho and the voice of poet and musician Lefifi Tladi.
Tladi has gone from teaching art to the community youngsters to curating his collection of Black Consciousness art dating back to the 1970’s. His art hangs on the worlds of museums and galleries around the world or you can visit his Mabopane home to see the art covering the walls.
Where the swing and blues of Jazz once sound-tracked the rhythm of the streets of Ga Rankuwa, the music you hear today is hip hop and house. The Annual Ga-Rankuwa Music Festival showcases the best local DJ’s and musicians and partners them with some big names. It’s a day long festival that all about the music and dancing and good vibes.
Cooks are reinventing traditional techniques and preserving the integrity of local ingredients to create new taste experiences. In Ga-Rankuwa you can enjoy the grilled skop at Kopwrap on Dire every day or a hearty stew at Café Sphettino, famous for the South African cuisine it serves.
North east of the city is Cullinan, a town built on diamonds. A destination that draws visitors with its mix of modern convenience and old world charm. Cross the tracks into the Refilwe Township and enter a world of oddly laid out streets and small homes of the Diamond People. Descendants of the men who worked the diamond mines the community opens their homes, shares their food and tell their stories passed down the generations of adventure, diamonds found, and fortunes lost.