Franco Frescura

For reasons that I have never fully understood, between about 1968 and 1972, the Wits campus underwent a period where posters of all colours and sizes proliferated, advertising everything from Rag Ball to intervarsity rugby, from Nusas teach-ins to visiting lecturers, and from Fresher’s Reception to rock and roll festivals. Every now and again the apartheid thugs that ran the country would provoke a rash of political posters, and the SRC elections were always an active time for poster artists.

In 1811 Joseph de Maistre wrote that every nation gets the government it deserves. By extension then, it also get the heritage it merits, and as building after building in our city centres continue to fall before the demolisher’s hammer, many South Africans have been left wondering exactly what they have done to warrant the destruction of so many of their memories.

In the early 1960s the Apartheid Government declared Pageview a white suburb (using the Groups Areas Act) and a decade later the bulldozers began their work. Residents were removed to Lenasia while many traders took up space at the Oriental Plaza. It was during this time that Franco Frescura set out to document some of the spaces, places and people of the area. Below are a few photos from 1973 that may interest readers. No captions have been added. If you recognise a person or building please post a comment below the article.

 

These sketches were drawn in 1966 as part of a first year student project at Wits. It involved taking a walk through a familiar built environment and documenting the various textures and vistas that one encountered. I was still struggling to develop a drawing style of my own, and the kind of clean pen-and-ink drawings that mark my later work were yet to evolve.

Over the last few weeks the seeds of a very important discussion have been planted with some big names in the heritage sector speaking out. In late September 2015 Dr Franco Frescura, Professor and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, published a critique of the heritage resources management sector in South Africa. This included statements about the performance of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the various Provincial Heritage Resources Authorities (PHRAs).

The exploitation of convict labour at the Cape during the Colonial era is closely connected with the work of John Montagu, Colonial Secretary for the Cape 1843-53. Montagu began his career as a colonial administrator in 1834, when he was appointed Colonial Secretary to Van Diemen’s Land, later known as Tasmania which, at that time, was one of the largest penal colonies operated by the British.

During the South African War of 1899-1902 blockhouses formed an essential part of British military strategy against Dutch forces. Initially these were fairly substantial and were used to guard key military points, but once the war moved into its final stages, they were used, together with barbed wire, as a means of limiting the movement of Republican commandos. All in all, some 8000 blockhouses were built over a period of two years, and although most were eventually dismantled, a number still remain in silent testimony of a bitter and foolish war.

During the past few months a number of South African university campuses have seen a spate of student protests against the presence of statues honouring our colonial past. Rightly or wrongly, these have resulted in the vandalization and removal of some of these memorials.

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