Gauteng Tourism looks to build on 7th Street's new cool factor and make it safer

Melville's iconic 7th Street has inspired a TV show and is a place where everyone really does know your name. But safety for its visitors has become a problem.

People walk along 7th Street in Melville on 27 July 2013 during the second annual "Fete de La Musique" (World Music Day) music festival in the suburb in Johannesburg. Picture: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Melville’s iconic 7th Street might be named as one of the coolest streets in the world but it is no stranger to the great South African story: crime.

The popular Joburg street was listed as the 12th coolest street out of 30 in a survey, the results of which were published in June by international lifestyle magazine Time Out. Last year, it ranked 33 rd in the same survey.

It's the kind of street that can inspire everyone - as it did 7de Laan creator Danie Odendaal to create the popular soapie. He was a Melville resident when he conceptualised the show. The show's opening shots feature its storefronts and the road.

Gauteng Tourism officials received Time Out's ranking as a big boost for the hospitality industry but they also saw it as an opportunity to urgently come up with plans to eradicate crime in the globally recognised hangout spot.

Known for some of the city’s iconic restaurants and clubs, the street has also become a hot spot for crimes like smash and grabs, pickpocketing and armed robbery. Two years ago, on New Year's Eve, there was a shootout at the popular Poppy's restaurant and jazz bar. Three people were killed and police are still looking for the perpetrators.

According to Crime Stats SA, which uses yearly and quarterly reported crime statistics released by the South African Police Services, there was a 9% decrease in crime in the area from December 2020 to March 2021. The annual 2020 statistics showed 3,724 reported cases of crime at the area's closest police precinct in Brixton.

Speaking to Eyewitness News during a tour of leafy Melville, Gauteng Tourism board chair Judy Nwokedi committed to holding meetings between tourism officials and others to discuss ways in which Melville could be returned to safety.

“South Africa needs to manage crime because crime is used as a reason not to visit the country. Gauteng Tourism needs to have dialogues with stakeholders like the South African Police Service, Metro Police and the community around Melville because it is the people on the ground that will bring solutions.”

She also added that one of the major changes that needed to happen was lighting. She said that the area's nighttime lighting must be the same as its daytime lighting and that the police must be visible in the area and that there should be patrols on the pavements. She also suggested road closures around 7th Street to manage planned robbery and drive-offs in the main nightlife area.

Nwokedi also highlighted how being listed in Time Out magazine’s survey came as a great improvement, considering that the hospitality and tourism industry was the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even though we saw a death of an industry, Melville rose up and came together and kept things going. Business owners acknowledged that people still needed their basic needs, like getting their hair and nails done and buying day-to-day groceries and the likes, which kept 7th Street alive.”

Walking on 7th Street in Melville, Eyewitness News was welcomed by warm and friendly residents and a plethora of stores offering different cuisines, book shops and antique shops.

Local resident Jovana Korac, who has been living in Melville since 2018, told Eyewitness News that she loved the neighbourhood because it had an inclusive community and everyone knew each other.

Melville has also got something to offer those who love nature. The Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, which is a Johannesburg City Heritage Site, offers hiking and beautiful views of the city. The hill also hosts archaeological remains of Stone Age and Iron Age settlements and lots of indigenous plants.

On the back of Tourism Month in September, South Africans are encouraged to continue supporting local tourism, a sector that ensures job creation and injects billions into the economy.

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