Kathy Munro

Flo Bird, Founder of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust and founder member of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation was a surprise guest speaker at the 17th annual symposium of the Heritage Association of South Africa held at Heidelberg last week. Flo’s speech was given at the remarkable  NZASM constructed Heidelberg Station.   

Below is the first article in a series on the Brixton Cemetery by Kathy Munro. The piece begins by giving the reader a general understanding of the purpose, origin and meaning of cemeteries before delving into the history and significance of Brixton Cemetery. It finishes by highlighting the shocking current state of the cemetery and attempts by local groups to take action. Future articles will look at the epitaphs and symbolism of the Brixton Cemetery as well as stories behind the graves and family memorials.

 

In June 2017, the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation commemorated the 41st anniversary of the Soweto revolt and offered its members a tour of the Fort and prison museum complex at Constitutional Hill. The complex encompasses the Number 4 section prison, the original 1890s Fort buildings and cells, the Gandhi and Mandela exhibitions and the Constitutional Court with its impressive collection of artworks.

 

The weekend of the 24/25 June 2017 saw the launch of the Jozi Walks initiative of the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA). Individuals, community organizations, tourism companies and NGOs joined hands in offering a series of free and innovative walks through Johannesburg, north, south, east and west. It was exciting, fun and  showed off Jozi at its best over a two day celebration of the Jane Jacobs walk my city philosophy.  

Here is an interesting story. Sometimes paper finds, or ephemera, happen in a serendipitous way. A friend bought a book at a recent Johannesburg monthly book auction at Westgate Walding. As he opened the title page, the document below fell out into his hand. Of course all sorts of things are used as bookmarks in old books – I have found bus, airline and parking tickets. There have also been pamphlets and city maps. I have even found out of date bank notes.

This last week brought a spectacular media scoop to Steve Humphrey of the BBC when an anonymous tip off (presumably telephonic) led him to a bell shaped parcel left at the entrance to the Swanage Pier in Dorset, England. The BBC team was on hand to film the careful unwrapping of the parcel to reveal a ship's bell with the word “Mendi” deeply etched in capital letters on the side (main image from Steve Humphrey and BBC TV South). The bell of the SS Mendi, lost in World War 1, had been found. 

 

Most commentaries on Johannesburg of the decade of the thirties takes 1936 and the city's fiftieth birthday as the year for reflection and anticipation. See, for example, the Star Newspaper's popular history, Like it Was. Johannesburg A Sunshine City Built on Gold (1931) is an unusual publication that takes us back to the start of the decade to discover Johannesburg.

 

I was recently given four photographs of early 20th century Cape Town. They are all in sepia brown shades. The dimensions are 8.5 x 11.30 inches. The edges of the photos are in poor condition but the main scenes are clearly visible. I would love to date these photographs.

They are clearly from the photographic studio of TP Ravenscroft and the one of Sea Point has a stamp on the reverse TD Ravenscroft. 

 

The recent discovery in the cellar of a home in Saxonwold, Johannesburg of an old discoloured, brass plaque is a heritage opportunity and opens space for reviewing the motives and outcomes of the Royal Visit to South Africa in 1947.

Johannesburg celebrated its 50th Golden Jubilee in 1936, a worthy year to recall as this year, 2016, is the 130th anniversary year. Johannesburg was called the Wonder City, the City of Achievement, the Golden City. The pride pulsates in the tourist and promotional literature. The Empire exhibition at the Milner Park showgrounds of the Witwatersrand Agricultural society was an enormous and ambitious celebratory event.

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers, Zulu, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers, for though, they made us leave our weapons at home, our voices are left with your bodies.”

Johannesburg celebrated its 130th birthday on 4th October 2016 in great style with a memorable happy event organized by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) under the direction of its incomparable founder Flo Bird. The executive mayor, Herman Mashaba, as first citizen of Johannesburg was guest of honour at the birthday party held at Museum Africa in Newtown. Johannesburg city  Councillor, Nonhlanhla Sifumba, member of the Mayoral comittee responsible for Community Development was also a guest of honour.

This month it was my pleasure to visit Sappersrus. The occasion was a gathering of the tourism association of the Hartbeestpoort Dam/Magaliesberg area to meet and learn about Sappersrus and its history and attend a small memorial ceremony. We enjoyed excellent hospitality and a lunch in the well-designed lapa close to the water. I was asked to deliver a short talk on the Battle of the Somme, Delville Wood and memorialization. Our hosts were Irene Small and Ashley Williams, who run the Sappers facility and Foundation.

1922 is often seen as the year that South Africa teetered on the brink of civil war. Fighting broke out across the Rand following a dispute between mine owners and workers. The crisis only ended after martial law was declared and bombs fell from the sky. If you are ever looking for something to do on a Saturday afternoon why not take a drive and recreate a few of the scenes from this turbulent time. The following driving tour was created by the team from the Johannesburg Historical Foundation (now defunct) in the 1990s.

[Originally published in 2015] I recently acquired a fascinating item of Johannesburg Africana. It is a pamphlet publication of the 1913 strike and disturbances on the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg. It's a slight document of 32 pages including four pages of period adverts published by the Central News Agency. Was it a newspaper insert or sold by the CNA? Coverage includes the story of the strike, a casualty list, a Johannesburg central district map of the "area of disturbance" and 14 pages of contemporary black and white photographs.

[Originally published in 2015] I recently visited The Moot House in Parktown as the gardens were on show as part of the Gardens of the Golden City programme. The entrance fee was R20 and tea was served with wicked chocolate cake at R25. Gardens of the Golden City supports a number of charities. I found the event advertised on the Heritage Portal and I wanted to thank those involved in promoting this fabulous home and garden.

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