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A few years ago Fourthwall books published a series of  fascinating small books on Johannesburg.  Beautifully designed , printed on high quality paper  with colour photographs it shone as a   high quality ‘ must have’  Johannesburg item.   However,  a  small print run  meant that these items rapidly became collectors items.   The stories  pulsed with  quirkiness and throb  with the adrenalin  of a new Joburg. There were  ten books in the series .  Tanya Zack  is the author and  Mark Lewis is the photographer.  His  brilliant coloured photographs captured the edginess, the dark struggles and the hopeful optimism of the inner city pulsating transformation  of old  Johannesburg  during the past decade .  

Rapidly snapped up, these  slim volumes,  they  went out of print in no time.  Sadly,  the high cost of this incredible production meant that no matter the demand, art publisher, Fourthwall books could not offer a reprint run.

However,  persuaded Duke University Press in the USA took an interest in the work as it was being taught at several universities there. Duke has produced all ten stories in one volume. Wake Up , This is Johannesburg   has now  been  published  in the USA – priced at $ 28. 95  , but if we order from abroad   there is a hefty delivery charge.   It was clear a local stock had to be sourced.

Best news is that Love Books in  Melville Johannesburg  on the Old Rustenburg Road  tel  011 726 7408 has imported the first batch to Johannesburg .  They are all sold out in 24 hours.  If you are keen on booking a copy,   phone  Love books and  put in your order so that they know how many to order for the second batch. 

My own favourite stories within the book are  Tea at Ansteys,  Master Mansions  and   Johannesburg Made in China.  They are all here and so much more in the single volume edition – a satisfyingly thick book.

There is an city map that  locates the ten stories  and orientates.   Achal Prabhala  has added a foreword and he opens with his story (probably happened to all of us and indeed has happened to me at the same stretch of road) of being accosted by a cell phone thief while stopping at the traffic lights. What are we to make of this  casual crime that happens all the time and where the Joburg resident has to know the no- go  crime hot spots. The city can be compared to Bangalore or  Rio and the fact that those are the comparative pin drops shows how  Johannesburg  no longer can be compared to  New  York  or Miami or Sydney . 


The substantial introduction by Tanya Zack draws out the important themes these fascinating stories highlight about Johannesburg. The introduction also discusses how this writer and photographer go about their work of finding stories. The total of 256 of Mark Lewis’s extraordinarily beautiful art photos include a few that were not in the original series. It is this book that explains the  transformed context of the old inner city- now a much more diverse, more African city than it ever was in the  mid 20th century.


Extract from the  Duke  Press Promotional  blurb  “  A single image taken from a high-rise building in inner-city Johannesburg uncovers layers of history—from its premise and promise of gold to its current improvisations. It reveals the city as carcass and as crucible, where informal agents and processes spearhead its rapid reshaping and transformation. In Wake Up, This Is Joburg, writer Tanya Zack and photographer Mark Lewis offer a stunning portrait of Johannesburg and personal stories of some of the city’s ordinary, odd, and outrageous residents. Their photos and essays take readers into meat markets where butchers chop cow heads; the eclectic home of an outsider artist that features turrets and full of manikins; long-abandoned gold pits beneath the city, where people continue to mine informally; and lively markets, taxi depots, and residential high-rises. Sharing people’s private and work lives and the extraordinary spaces of the metropolis, Zack and Lewis show that Johannesburg’s urban transformation occurs not in a series of dramatic, wide-scale changes but in the everyday lives, actions, and dreams of individuals.

Wake Up, This is Joburg

  • Wake  Up, This is Joburg is available  from Love Books at R 650. Phone to order  -  011  726 7408  Note the R650 that Love Books is able to charge is a subsidised price. Mark and Tanya  had to raise R300 000 to enable Duke bring it in at that price.   It  is  a very good price for a book that intersects with popular ad academic audiences and is an extremely high quality production that includes 256 full colour art photographs.

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