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​​Newtown: Your Guide​

Nelson Mandela BridgeHistorical background

AT the turn of the 20th century, the Newtown Precinct was originally known as the Brickfields. This area was rich in clay, brick making became the most popular form of generating income, and even better if an individual had their own clay mixer for making bricks. By 1896, about 7 000 people of all races lived in the Brickfields area, later named Burghersdorp.

As this land was close to the centre of Johannesburg and the railway line, many businesses and immigrants coming from overseas bought stands in Burghersdorp. Soon, trading companies, banks, brick companies, a brewery, and fisheries moved into the area. Many Indians set up shops and eateries along Locatie (now known as Carr Street), which led to the station.

In April 1904, the fire brigade set the area alight destroying everything in the inferno - a measure to combat the bubonic plague that had broken out. The area was surveyed, re-planned in unbecoming haste and renamed Newtown by October 1904. A commercial area where vast fortunes in milling, production of sugar and food merchandising would come to existence. Newtown has now become synonymous with the heritage and culture of South Africa and especially Johannesburg. Hence it is universally known as the Cultural Precinct.
Located in the western sector of the Johannesburg city centre, covering an area that stretches from the marshalling yards and railway lines to the north, the M2 motor-way in the south, West Street in the east and Quinn Street in the west.
Capitalising on Newtown's history as the hub of exchange and the original centre of Johannesburg, the redevelopment of Newtown has been identified as a key focus area with the potential to attract major investment, particularly in creative industries, culture and tourism. Newtown is being developed into a vibrant, mixed-use area with a unique character based on existing cultural facilities. Think of the indelible Kippies, the world renowned Market Theatre, the buzz of Nikki's Oasis and Couch and Coffee, the grooving to numerous international artists who have graced Newtown Music Centre (formerly Mega Music) and not forgetting the unique shopping experience of the Oriental Plaza just around the corner.

This destination is now easier to reach with the construction of the Nelson Mandela Bridge and associated N1 / Carr Street interchange. The Nelson Mandela Bridge is the new gateway from the north and is able to carry up to 3000 cars per hour. Co-funded by Blue IQ, the City of Johannesburg, National Roads Agency and the National Department of Transport, this pedestrian and vehicle link provides improved access for local national and international tourists.
  1. New Carr Street Interchange
  2. Mandela Bridge
  3. Old Railway Station
  4. Metro Market
  5. New Residential Development
  6. Africa Cultural Centre & Children's Museum
  7. Market Theatre Precinct
  8. MuseuMAfrica
  9. Mary Fitzgerald Square
  10. Dance Centre
  11. Worker's Library & Museum
  12. Multimedia Centre
  13. Turbine Hall & Boiler House
  14. Mega Music
  15. Dance Factory
  16. Sci-bono discovery centre
  17. SAB Museum
  18. Reserve Bank
  19. Bus Factory
Features of Newtown
An architecturally unique bridge, Nelson Mandela Bridge, plus related interchange.
A massive transport interchange and trading complex catering to public transport users.
Housing developments for mixed-income tenants.
Public sector funding from Blue IQ, City of Johannesburg, National Roads Agency and National Department of Transport in excess of R400-million.

The establishment of a City Improvement District, installation of CCTV, upgrading of existing buildings and public open spaces have turned Newtown into a safe, secure and attractive environment. Mary Fitzgerald Square constantly hosts public performances and gatherings. With lighting designed by renowned French Lighting designer, Patrick Rimoux and made possible by funding from the French Institute, Newtown has been transformed into a well-lit attractive destination.

Newtown is strategically positioned in the Johannesburg metropolitan context, within reach of a broad spectrum of city users and close to the SABC, the national broadcaster. There are opportunities for investment in the creative industries, specifically film television, music, as well as for recording and production, crafts and design, multi-media and information technology.

Over 2 200 new housing units, providing a range of accommodation, are planned in the form of Transport House, Metro Mall, Brickfields and Tribunal Gardens. COPE and the Johannesburg Housing Company have already developed the Carr Gardens and Newtown Urban Village offering mixed-income housing and are currently fully let. Land, and under-utilised buildings, largely owned by the public sector, offer excellent opportunities for new developments. Infrastructure capacity to support new development exists. A fast-track planning approval system offering appropriate and substantial development rights has been established by the local authority to support property development in the area.

  • Opportunities to rehabilitate, re-use and revamp redundant buildings.
  • Investment opportunities in cultural tourism and creative industries.
  • Economic opportunities for informal enterprises.
  • Support services to creative industries.
  • Hotels, restaurants and retail opportunities.


Nelson Mandela Bridge
The Nelson Mandela Bridge is a landmark gateway into Newtown. The 295 metre long, cable-stayed bridge can accommodate over 3 000 vehicles per hour. In order to cater for the walking visitor, the bridge has pedestrian walkways and when lit, provides a spectacular new element to the Joburg skyline.

The bridge spans the main Braamfontein railway yards, forming part of the new link joining Braamfontein in the north and Newtown in the south. The former state president Nelson Mandela officially opened the bridge on 20 July 2003, two days after his 85th birthday.

  • The total cost of the bridge is R120-million and construction took 18 months, after an international design competition.
  • It is the longest cable-stayed bridge in Southern Africa (295 metres long)
  • The bridge was implemented under the guidance of South African National Roads Agency, Goba Moahlodi-Keeve Steyn Inc were the consulting engineers.
  • The main contractor for the bridge was LBA Consortium, a consortium between Grinaker-LTA, BCW joint venture and the Nelson Mandela Bridge Consultants Consortium.
  • Bridge was launched with a festival of running - Blue IQ Joburg City Challenge consisting of a 21km half marathon, 10km road race, 5km fun run, 4OOm race for children and a celebrity race.
The on/off ramps have greatly improve access to Newtown from the south, east and west of Joburg. Previously, one would have had to use the off-ramp at Smit Street to gain access to Newtown. With the new interchange, northbound traffic can gain easier access and exit into Newtown. This improves the link to other important tourist destinations in Soweto, Gold Reef City and the west of Joburg.

Metro Mall
Should you have the pleasure of visiting Newtown using public transport, you will probably alight at the built Metro Mall. Opened in January 2003, this multi-million rand public transport and shopping complex has some of Joburg's unique public art on display. Ranging from life-size sculptures, murals, mosaic and installations, the artworks are a fitting tribute to the numerous artists who work in Newtown and around Joburg and help to enhance the shopper's experience.

Once inside, the buzz will keep you enthralled for hours. Feel free to shop for anything from the latest CD's to fresh vegetables. There is even a wholesaler on site to cater for the growing demands of commuters as well as the growing number of residents in Newtown. At lunchtime, book yourself a seat at the food hall located on the second level of Metro Mall. The food on offer is traditional local cuisine prepared under the watchful eye of the environmental health ministry, not that it is necessary, but it provides a piece of mind for the numerous visitors to Newtown. Metro Mall is situated between Simmonds, Sauer, West and Pimm streets and incorporates the Bree Street taxi rank.

Open daily 6am - 10pm


  • Metro Mall was built at a cost of R100-million and is managed by the Metropolitan Trading Company.
  • It has three levels - an integrated transport facility for approximately 3 000 vehicles, a trader's market and formal retail shops along Bree Street.
  • Some funds from the development budget were set aside for the public artworks on display at the mall.
  • An estimated 150 000 daily taxi and bus commuters go through Metro Mall.
  • This development accommodates 600 informal traders, 3 000m² of formal retail space as well as six hundred units of mixed income housing.
Newtown Music Centre
The Newtown music centre has long been a popular venue for music concerts, recording launches and performances. It has recently been refurbished and is now under management of the Music Industry Development Initiative (MIDI) Trust.

It is open for business and can be used for music rehearsals and dance training space, and has a resource centre. Great musicians like Hugh Masekela, Femi Kuti, Letta Mbulu, Sipho Hostix Mabuse, Salif Keita, Taria Maria and M'chelle N'dege O'chello, to name a few, have graced the stage of the music hall, which has also played host to varied genres of music, from hip-hop, mbaqanga, soukos, jazz, kwaito and kwasa kwasa. Under the management of the MIDI Trust, the Newtown Music Centre and indeed Newtown, holds a promising future for both established and up-and-coming performing artists. Umoja-The Show, the internationally acclaimed musical has also performed at this venue.

The venue is also used for training for music and related industry stakeholders.

Open Monday to Thursday 9am-5pm, Friday 9am-4pm

The Venue

  • Acts as the head office for the MIDI Trust which emphasises training and education, information dissemination and industry development.
  • Offers training and conferencing facilities.
  • The music hall has capacity to hold 1000 spectators.
  • R3,5-million was spent to refurbish this venue.
  • Has state of the art recording studios for professional and demo recordings.

Situated in the heart of the Newtown Cultural Precinct, MuseuMAfricA is Johannesburg's premier history museum. The museum is housed in what was once the city's first fruit and vegetable market, a building constructed for this purpose in 1913 and which, at the time, was a fine example of the advances made in industrial building techniques. In the early 1905, the market building was imaginatively adapted to house MuseuMAfricA, a new museum that opened its doors in 1994, the year of South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections. Conceived in the midst of the country's political transition to democracy, the museum's permanent displays focus on the history of Johannesburg in the 20th century.

MuseuMAfricA's principal permanent exhibition is "Johannesburg Transformations" which examines some of the momentous changes that have swept through the city in the last century. The discovery of gold has played a seminal role in the birth and development of the city and the displays which make up "Johannesburg Transformations" plot the political, economic and social effects of gold on the city's history and its people. Visitors can discover what the impact of gold was on the workers, how their struggle led to the emergence of a unique urban culture, and the punishing effects which the housing crisis had on their lives resulting in the development of informal settlements across the city. Finally, the struggle for a democratic South Africa ends off this exhibition by detailing the long walk to political freedom.

Visitors can also see "Tried for Treason", a display which deals with the five-year trial of 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, who were arrested and charged for their anti-apartheid activities. Although all 156 accused were acquitted, this trial marked a turning point in the resistance movement. Apart from its historical displays, the museum also houses the South African Rock Art Museum, the Bensusan Museum of Photography and the Geological Museum.

This is the only museum, which attempts to tell the story of life in Southern Africa from the stone age to nuclear age and beyond. It tells this story with honesty and objectivity, using its extensive collections, recent research, and the advice of experts in the fields of geology, archaeology, anthropology and history; The section on Johannesburg features models of Batswana & Bushman people. In addition to a gallery of ancient San (Bushman) rock art, there is an interesting section on a more recent phenomenon- squatter camps and shebeens.

Open Tuesday - Sunday 9am - 5pm. Closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday and Day of Goodwill

Mary Fitzgerald Square
Launched by President Thabo Mbeki in December 2000, to a 20 000-strong crowd who were treated to the best of South African jazz, this square has become a sought after venue for public performances and gatherings. Originally known as Aaron's Ground and later renamed Mary Fitzgerald Square, this former wagon site was used for the many strikers' meetings at the turn of the 20th century. This square lies at the heart of Newtown. It was renamed Mary Fitzgerald Square in 1939, in honour of the first woman trade unionist who played a key role in the 1910 miners' strike.

The new square has the capacity for over 50 000 people and provides an outdoor space for a wide array of activities, including outdoor film festivals, concerts, markets, carnivals and exhibitions. The square also boasts the biggest outdoor LED screen on the continent, measuring 55m². Two sky disks are major elements on the square. The first depicts the stellar constellation as at the birth of Mary Fitzgerald, the second depicts the constellation as at the first democratic election of 27 April 1994. There is a third, which can be found at the entrance to the MuseuMAfricA depicting the constellation as at the official launch of the square on 16 December 2001 - Reconciliation Day. The disks use unique optic fibre lights that glow in the dark.

Renowned French lighting engineer, Patrick Rimoux was commissioned to design the lighting for this square as well as for the surrounding public open spaces. The unique lighting provides essential street lighting whilst giving the area a distinct ambience.


  • Constructed at a cost of R15-million, the square has a capacity of accommodating 50 000 people as well as parking and flea market facilities.
  • The lighting features elements that pay tribute to the original cooling towers that were once dominant in the Newtown area, 90% of whose components were manufactured in South Africa
  • The carved heads, visible throughout the square and the surrounds, were manufactured by Newtown artists from disused railway sleepers, depicting the different faces from the African continent.
Market Theatre
A visit to Joburg is incomplete without a night out at this internationally acclaimed theatre, made famous as the first integrated theatre, playing a pivotal role in the struggle against apartheid through the encouragement of debate and challenging ideas. It houses three theatres, a bar, an art gallery and the second of the famous Moyo restaurants.

The Market Theatre complex is also home to Kippies International Jazz Club, a superb jazz venue, modelled on an old Victorian toilet and named after the legendary saxophonist, Kippie Morolong Moeketsi. This intimate jazz club features live performances by local and international acts and is guaranteed to keep the patrons swinging till the wee hours of the morning. South African cuisine is served with aplomb at the award-winning Gramadoelas restaurant, patrons vary from heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, and culture vultures who frequent this complex.

The complex still retains the ambience and spirit of a marketplace. The theatre itself is infused with theatrical history, from the posters of Athol Fugard plays that premiered there to Grammy and Tony award-winning musicals like Sarafina.

Open Monday - Saturday: 9pm - late, Sunday: 10am - late

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre
Previously known as the Electric Workshop, this eccentric building owned by the City of Johannesburg is currently being renovated to house Gauteng's flagship science centre, Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, an initiative of the Gauteng Department of Education through the Gauteng Education Development Trust, is a R150-million project aimed at addressing the province's maths, science and technology skills development programme.

The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre will include 6 000m² of interactive exhibition space, the biggest yet in Africa, comprising curriculum focused interactive exhibits, icon exhibits, a 'firsts' gallery, a pre-school discovery centre, a career centre and an education centre. The complex will also include commercial and retail facilities, science and technology education office hubs, restaurants and science shops.

The science centre, due for completion in early 2006, is being developed in three distinct phases. For more details on this science centre, visit​

The dynamic catalyst for funding and promoting strategic investment in the Gauteng Province. With a specific focus on the growth sector of technology, high value-added manufacturing, transport and tourism. Blue IQ works in partnership with business, government departments and other organisations.

The headquarters are next to the Electric Workshop and incorporate a media centre, which showcases the major projects they fund. Some of the ground-breaking work funded through this multi billion rand initiative include: Newtown development, Kliptown, Constitution Hill, Innovation Hub, Johannesburg International Airport, IDZ, Gautrain Rapid Rail Link, City Deep Container Depot, Gauteng Automotive Cluster and Wadeville Alrode Industrial Corridor.

National Design and Craft Centre
Situated at the historic Bus Factory, which was the city's tram and bus sheds from the late 1930's until it was decommissioned in the early 1990's. This is ideal for those tourists who want a one-stop-shop for the best in South African arts and crafts. The building has been transformed into an integrated business co-operative specialising in manufacture, marketing, sales and export of South African inspired craft, jewellery and home decor products.

Beautiful Things and National Craft Imbizo exhibitions are currently on show at this venue until the end of December 2003. These exhibitions were first seen at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) hosted by the City of Johannesburg in 2002. The craft centre is also home to Create SA, Visual Arts and Crafts Academy (VACA) and the Drum Cafe. Visitors can learn the age-old art of the making of African drums and can choose from a dizzying array of arts and craft that South Africa can offer.

The Bus Factory was refurbished at a cost of R9,5-million with funding from Blue IQ and the Gauteng Department of Sports Recreation and Arts and Culture.
Beautiful Things represents works of South African artisans and crafters and products that are sold and serve to uplift many communities in the rural hinterland.
Open Tuesday - Friday 9am - 5pm, Saturday & Sunday l0am - 2pm

Other attractions

How long has beer been around? 
100 years. Maybe 200 years? Try 6 000 years. 
Visit the fun-filled showcase of brewing at the South African Breweries World of Beer in Newtown, where you will be able to trace the evolution of beer over 6 000 years and discover the magic of making beer and making friends.

For Just R10 per person, the SAB World of Beer offers a very exciting and informative beer tour that allows visitors to trace the journey of the golden brew from ancient Mesopotamia through Africa and Europe to its place in modern society. Daily tours, hosted by professionally trained tour guides take you back in time to a turn of the century pub in Johannesburg's mining camp and a traditional Soweto shebeen. Furthermore, the intricacies of the brewing process are revealed in a climatically controlled greenhouse, where hops and barley are grown side-by-side and the art and science of brewing is demonstrated in a full-scale interactive brewhouse.

At the end of the tour, visitors are invited to sit back and relax in the pub at The Tap Room and enjoy two complimentary beers or soft drinks of their choice. Pub lunches are also available. On their way out, visitors are welcome to visit the Tankards & Togs gift shop, where they will be able to find the perfect gift for colleagues, friends and family.

Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 6pm

For those who are interested in the development of Johannesburg and the role played by the migrant workers who were pivotal in building this city, this is the place to visit. The worker's museum and library is situated in a restored municipal worker's compound, which served the electricity department for the city. The east wing of the building was developed into a worker's museum that commemorated the history of the African migrant workers. It also provides a faithful reconstruction of the conditions in the single-sex hostels in which black Joburg municipal workers lived and struggled, for the better part of the 20th century.

The library boasts an impressive collection of labour related materials from books, videos and periodicals, chronicling the history of the working class movement, to economics, labour law and industrial policy. This is a researcher's dream, if you are into South African industrial history.

Open Thursday to Saturday 9am - 4pm

The old potato sheds behind the Market Theatre Complex, have been converted into an arts centre, focusing on the needs of children and young people. This is a resource centre for children and young people and hosts a year-round Child Active Programme, designed for children and young peo- ple who are interested in learning about creative ways of making the world a safer, loving and friendly place to live in. On offer are programmes such as visual arts, craft and design, dance and music, media as well as a children's parliament. The programmes are designed to encourage participation, initiative and innovation in children and the youth in general.

The first of its kind outside of the US, it was launched in Newtown in November 2002. The club focuses on young people living in the inner city from the ages of nine to 19, offering an opportunity to learn about computers and technology and how it can be of benefit to them.

The club was instigated by the Youth Development Trust and sponsored by Intel Computers for Youth Development. This child-friendly environment encourages children and the youth to learn in a creative and stimulating environment and parents are known to leave their children under the supervision of the talented club staff.

This historic building used to be the offices of the electricity department, now houses the majority of cultural organisations that are based in Newtown. Many of these non-profit organisations operating with the remit of the development of culture, music, art and heritage of South Africa.

These organisations offer services to the arts and culture industry from training, advocacy and support. These include the Musicians Union of South Africa, Africa Cultural Heritage Trust, South African Roadies Association (SARA), Newtown Film and Television School, Themba Mkhize Studios and FUBA Music and Drama. The latter has been seminal in shaping some of South Africa's musical talents in the form of Sibongile Khumalo and Moses Molelekwa. SARA trains backstage technicians who continue to support local and international artists in their endeavours to bring musical joy to audiences.

This is a unique concept in the fostering of a dance culture and developing dance audiences in Joburg. Funded mainly by well wishers, the Dance Factory has had successes in the establishment, equipping and administering of a dance centre through classes, workshops and performances, and in particular to the communities that have been culturally, educationally and economically disadvantaged. The Dance Factory frequently hosts performances by acclaimed local and international dancers.

Established in 1978 by Sylvia Magogo Glasser as a form of cultural resistance to apartheid, this trailblazing company has developed into the foremost professional dance company and training institution in South Africa. Moving into Dance has a professional performance company, runs teacher training courses, provides teachers of edudance to schools in their out-reach programme as well as open dance classes to the public.

Open Monday and Wednesday 5.15pm - 6.15pm, Saturday 9.30am - 11.30am, 11.30am - 12.30pm open classes
​​Newtown: Your Guide​