Alexandra, situated some 5 km east of Sandton, started life as a township in 1905 and was initially established to house black people exclusively. It was one of the few townships where black people could own property. Many musicians and artists lived here at one time or another. They included internationally famous names such as Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba. The inhabitants of Alex had their own turbulent times to suffer through. There was no electricity and drainage was poor and since many black people wanted to realise their dream of owning property, the area was soon overcrowded. There were no municipal services and conditions worsened to such an extent that medical practitioners warned of serious health risks. The government of the day regarded townships as hotbeds of resistance and inhabitants were constantly harassed. To make matters worse, Alex was run by gangs of criminals. In the 1960s the government decided to destroy all the houses and replace them with hostels for migrant workers. The inhabitants fought hard to conserve what was theirs and, eventually, the decision was overturned. A visit to Alex is a trip into the not-so-recent past, but also gives one a view of an improved present and a hopeful future. The Alexandra Renewal Project is an ambitious urban renewal project that aims to improve living conditions and upgrade human capacity in the township.
Alexandra Township Tours: Inhabitants who remember the Alexandra of old take visitors to sites such as the Pan Africa and Indian Market Places, The Health Clinic, the Zulu hostels in “Beirut”, the Roman Catholic Church, Freedom Square and the house where Mandela spent his first few years in Johannesburg. To ensure an extensive tour and pleasurable experience, make sure that you book with a registered tour guide company.
Entertainment And Shopping
King’s Cinema Precinct: The 1940s Art-deco movie house forms the centre of the entertainment district in Alexandra.
History And Architecture
Alexandra Cemetery: Alexandra Cemetery is situated near the banks of the newly cleaned-up Jukskei River and offers a view of the area and is in stark contrast to the newer and smarter developments on the East Bank. Walk among the graves to see how many names of famous people buried here you recognise.
Alexandra Hostels: These single-sex Alexandria hostels, designed by the Apartheid authorities, housed the labourers who commuted to Johannesburg and back every day.
Nelson Mandela Yard: The route through a narrow alleyway leads between houses to the room where Nelson Mandela (Madiba) lived in the 1940s when he was a young lawyer.
Roman Catholic Church Precinct: The beautiful St Hubert’s Church is close to the lively shopping and tavern district of Alexandra.