Founder and tour guide, Past Experiences
South Africa’s biggest, busiest city evokes many emotions, and for Jo Buitendach, her relationship with Johannesburg has been a burgeoning love affair that has seen her build a business around introducing visitors to its remarkable people, intriguing communities and inspiring art.
Buitendach’s background is in archaeology, but she wanted to spend time with people rather than relics, and originally thought of starting an archaeology tour business. She started out with a couple of inner city walking tours in what was a very dangerous area, but the tours were so popular that she shifted her focus from the past to the present, and built Past Experiences.
Seven years on, Jo has expanded Past Experiences to include archaeological tours in and around the Cradle, and a wide variety of city tours that explore the hearts of Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria. The tours are great outings for friends or family; there is a range of tours that have been customised to meet corporate team building needs, and the company will soon introduce a new school tour product.
“Helping people discover the excitement and heritage of our inner cities has been a gift that has helped me discover who I am as a person,” she says. “One of the biggest gifts has been meeting people from so many walks of life, whether its tourists or car guards, hawkers, shop owners or graffiti artists.”
It’s perhaps Johannesburg’s inner city graffiti that has led Jo on one of her most interesting journeys, as she recently completed her master’s degree studying the heritage value of graffiti. Impermanent though it may be, graffiti and public art are a vital part of the city, particularly for the children who live and move around in it every day.
“We only have a short time to show people the real city centre and have an impact on their lives,” Jo says. “We also make sure that we involve ourselves in the communities that we work in, looking for ways that we can work together for the good of the city. If we call keep sharing and promoting the inner city in a positive and realistic way, supporting its businesses, the district can only continue to improve for everyone who lives and works there.” — Kerry Haggard