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A little bit of London in the mining camp of Johannesburg

Private clubs have been a staple of the world’s great cities for centuries, conferring an air of belonging on those allowed within their hallowed walls, and the slam of a front door to those who don’t pass muster. Exclusivity (and exclusion) was part of the package.

Riding a wave of popularity abroad, a boom in private members’ clubs across South Africa – Johannesburg in particular – has seen a new breed of club emerging. It’s a club that blends luxurious bells and whistles with a need for inclusivity, an openness to new technology and an eye for the fast-changing world of business.

The closest thing South Africa has to the traditional clubs of London is the historic Rand Club in the heart of Johannesburg. Established in 1887, in the heady days of the gold rush, it was inspired by London’s iconic Reform Club and became a home-from-home for mining magnates and randlords. With a handsome staircase and stately columns, ‘it was designed to be a little bit of London in the mining camp of Johannesburg’, explains Brian McKechnie, an architect and heritage consultant, and a respected member of the Rand Club.

In its heyday the Rand Club had thousands of members, and more clamouring to join, but today active members number in the hundreds. Because, as membership criteria have evolved, so has the commercial landscape.

‘Most clubs used to have large business memberships but the world of business has changed,’ McKechnie confirms. ‘You no longer have long, boozy lunches down at your club.’

To keep up, clubs have had to box clever: some boast fine-dining restaurants with big-name chefs; bespoke events are crucial – the Rand Club hosts regular talks by global politicians and authors; on-site business facilities and meeting spaces have become standard.

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