Gauteng

In 1889, just three years after the founding of Johannesburg, the finishing touches were being put on a building that would become one of the city's landmarks for seven decades. It rose almost 30m into the sky and was the tallest building in town until the Markham's Building claimed the title in 1897. Considering it dominated the skyline, it is no surprise that it gained the nickname the 'Eiffel Tower of the Rand'.

A few weeks ago I noticed a post in the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation's facebook group highlighting the neglect of 12 Park Lane - Parktown's oldest surviving house (built circa 1895). The comments by concerned members of the community resonated with me as I have watched the historic property deteriorate over the past few years. The garden has been left to grow wild, windows are broken, cracks in the walls continue to spread and a portion of the balcony appears to have collapsed.

Important editor's note: The initiatives mentioned in this article are only proposals. A thorough consultation phase with a spectrum of stakeholders still needs to take place before any plans are approved. The article was unpublished on 13 December 2017 following a request from the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP). On 24 December 2017 it was republished after the release of a similar article on BusinessTech.

7th November 2017 is the centenary of the Russian Revolution but also of the birth of one of South Africa’s greatest 20th century daughters, Helen Suzman. On Friday 3rd November a small group of Johannesburg citizens and family members of the Suzman clan gathered to remember and pay tribute to Helen Suzman, with the unveiling of a blue plaque on the pavement at 13 Eton Road Parktown. The plaque was unveiled by Helen’s daughters, Frances and Patricia (Francie and Patty).

We are honoured to post this wonderful article on the Hillbrow Tower written by journalist and passionate Joburger, Lucille Davie. It was originally published in the Saturday Star on the 4 January 2014. Click here to view more of Davie's writing. The Johannesburg Development Agency continues its work in the area and we're sure all South Africans can't wait until the Tower finally reopens.

 

Over the years I have photographed hundreds of plaques in South Africa and beyond. Most are easy to find as they are well documented and placed within easy view. Some, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky. Below is my list of five sneaky blue plaques...

1) Charles and Isabelle Lipp

Cultural history is plagued by the plague. The Black Death stalks through history pages captivating and horrifying us at the same time, even Shakespeare used the threat of the plague in his plays to curse his characters. Most modern humans see the plague as something of the past, a historical disease far removed from modern day living and experience.

However the plague has once again raised its head.

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.   

In the late 1980s a magnificent statue of a rearing stallion was erected outside the Sandton Civic Centre near the corner of Rivonia and West (just up from where the Gautrain Station is today). It was surrounded by a fountain and became an instant landmark in the rapidly expanding Sandton CBD.

 

In 2014, a blue plaque was unveiled on Adam Asvat's Pageview home. Lucille Davie, one of Joburg's legendary journalists was there and compiled the following report (originally published in the Saturday Star on 3 May 2014) . Click here to view more of Davie's work.

They tore up the roads. They cut off the water and electricity. They made sand mounds on the sports field so that the community couldn’t play soccer or cricket any more. 

Enoch Mankayi Sontonga was born in Uitenhage, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) around 1873 as a member of the Xhosa-speaking Mpinga clan of the Tembu tribe. He trained as a teacher at the Lovedale Mission Training College, after which he was sent to a Methodist mission school (unnamed) in Nancefield, near Johannesburg in 1896. He taught here for nearly eight years.

Watchmaker Cornelius Lehr is dressed in a neat beige tunic shirt and dark pants, with a trim salt and pepper beard. But I suspect that under this immaculate appearance lurks a free-thinking hippie.

However, what I don’t need to speculate about is that he is an expert craftsman, or, in his words, “a Jack of all trades, a master of one”.

Cornelius describes himself as an “antiquarian horologist”, a specialist in the making and repair of antique time pieces.

Most Joburg citizens have some direct experience of the scourge of illegal dumping. Across the city, vacant pieces of land, once beautiful parks and even heritage sites are used by dumpers. Catching the culprits is difficult, cleaning up the mess is expensive and the negative effects on health, the environment and heritage preservation are massive.

Below are notes prepared by the heritage team from the City of Johannesburg for a speech delivered at the unveiling ceremony of a blue plaque for Juliwe Cemetery during Heritage Month 2017. The speech was read out by Mr Kepi Madumo, Executive Director for Community Development, on behalf of the MMC. The notes tell the story of the forced removals of the African community from Roodepoort West to Dobsonville and the fight to save the cemetery from destruction.

This Heritage Month, the newly established Gauteng Heritage Action Group (GHAG) launched its 'Heritage Horror Stories' campaign. Sites that have been neglected for years have received 'black plaques' (the opposite of the prestigious blue plaque) with the aim of shaming owners into taking action. Many of these owners have made big promises over the years but have failed to deliver. 

 

For many years, the heritage community in Johannesburg has been searching for a smart tool that can alert property owners up front whether or not they need to follow heritage processes before carrying out any work. This Heritage Month, I am happy to announce that such a tool has arrived with the launch of The Heritage Register (click here to view).

My maternal grandmother, Antonetta Elizabeth Cosslett, would have turned 100 on the 13th of December 2017. And it is this hypothetical centenary that has motivated me to record what I know about her. I am the third youngest of a very large brood of cousins on my mother’s side of the family, and only really came to know her in her last decade or two, so perhaps there is a sense of disconnection with history that I am trying to mend too.

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