Johannesburg

The façade of the Provincial Building in downtown Johannesburg never fails to turn heads. It was preserved and incorporated into Surrey House in the early 1990s. Below is an overview of events compiled by Johann Bruwer (published courtesy of the City of Johannesburg).

[First published 28 January 2013] If all goes to plan over the next few months, Johannesburg could become Africa’s first Wikipedia City. This means that visitors will be able to use their smartphones to scan QR codes placed on historic landmarks and be taken to a Wikipedia page containing fascinating information about the site. (A QR code is a smart phone readable bar code that contains web addresses).

The question above is one that has been asked and answered many times over the years. We are repeating it now as we feel the South African Heritage community needs to continuously push the simple idea that we can help the country to achieve its development goals. This idea is expressed throughout the City of Johannesburg's Heritage Policy. Below are a few excerpts from this policy:

Heritage Tourism

The following epic case study, written by Albrecht Holm, appeared in a 1996/7 edition of the old Johannesburg Historical Foundation's Journal 'Between the Chains'. It not only highlights the significance of the site but also the skill of a spectrum of professionals needed to achieve the spectacular result.

We found this remarkable letter from the early 1980s in the archives of the Egoli Heritage Foundation. It deals with a preservationist's dilemma regarding a a building called Somerset House in the Johannesburg CBD.

In reply to requests in your newspapers for information concerning Johannesburg's past I'm faced with a dilemma I should like to share with you, which with some help could be resolved. It concerns a small building in Fox Street called Somerset House (in Johannesburg's CBD), which was built in 1906.

The Petrus Molefe Monument, also known as the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Monument, is located in the Petrus Molefe Eco-Park on Mtambo Street in Dhlamini Soweto. Molefe was the first operative to be killed during the early operations of MK. Thank you to the City of Johannesburg for giving us permission to publish the details below.

The Mai Mai Market is one of the oldest markets in Johannesburg. Many sources describe it as 'the Place of Healers' (Ezinyangeni). People from across Gauteng flock there in search of cures for a myriad of ailments. The market is located to the east of the city on the corner of Anderson and Berea Streets and has been through many periods of neglect and revitalisation. There appears to be a relatively settled community and thriving trade for those lucky enough to run a business at Mai Mai.

Five Jeppe men were prominent in the early history of the Transvaal and the Witwatersrand Gold fields. Three were brothers, two were the sons of the youngest brother.  Two played significant roles in state administration, two were entrepreneur-businessmen and one was a jurist. But by enunciating these men’s foundation careers, is to tell only part of the story, for they all pursued a myriad of interests, involvements and occupations. All appeared assuredly capable of operating in a broad professional and public arenas.

Over the last few weeks there has been considerable discussion about the shocking state of George Harrison Park in Langlaagte (the site commemorating the discovery of the largest goldfield on earth). In the following thought-provoking piece Gavin Whitfield, geological consultant and author, argues that we should 'not waste further effort on maintaining this important heritage site as it is...'

History

A few weeks ago (late September 2013) we paid a depressing visit to George Harrison Park in Langlaagte, the site of the discovery of the largest gold field on earth. The Geological Society's Blue Plaque has been removed, building rubble is scattered around the main entrance, the panels revealing the significance of the site have been damaged by fire and the main memorial looks battered to say the least. It is incredibly sad to see one of the most important heritage sites in South Africa looking so neglected.

 

Since February this year members of the heritage lobby have been attending meetings with the Department of Public Works discussing the development of the Marshall Street Police Barracks and the site they call 85 Anderson Street. We were more than sceptical at the first meeting, became even more suspicious when no heritage architect was appointed, so only at the final meeting on 18th May did we accept their bona fides and really enjoy the discussions.  

News emerged last week that the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) is considering using Joubert Park as a temporary taxi facility while upgrades to the Jack Mincer rank are made. This has outraged many Johannesburg citizens and organisations. In the article below Kathy Munro explores the history and significance of Johannesburg's oldest park. If you would like to see Joubert Park remain as it is feel free to sign this petition.

It is claimed that the upgrading of the Jack Mincer Taxi facility will take 18 to 20 months to complete and that public safety issues (amongst other reasons) preclude the structure being used during building operations.  Therefore it is suggested that as a temporary measure the taxis may be relocated to Joubert Park.  This, on the face of it, would seem to be a realistic proposal, particularly in the light of the other reasons that the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA) advances for this strategy.  Therefore to protest against the proposal, as some have done,

Seldom in life does one get an opportunity to take decisive action in what appears to be a major emergency. But let me recount one very small such moment in my own life. When I was a youngster growing up in Johannesburg a notable feature of life in the city was the weekly street collection, run by the City Council in order to assist worthy causes in raising funds.

Louis Bonaparte Neapolitan Collins (Lou Collins) was a clockmaker based in Pritchard Street who was commmissioned to install a number of landmark Johannesburg clocks including the original Rissik Street Post Office Clock and the Markham's Clock.

A few years ago the Provincial Heritage Resources Authority Gauteng (PHRAG) approved the demolition of the Anton van Wouw House in Doornfontein on the condition that the studio where van Wouw completed many of his famous works was preserved. As word of the demolition spread many people struggled to come to terms with the decision as the Van Wouw House formed part of the Joburg100 list (a list of 100 sites worthy of preservation compiled in the lead up to Johannesburg's centenary celebrations).

This article may be somewhat premature as we have yet to investigate the situation fully but it looks like the historic Van Wouw house in Doornfontein has been demolished. We went to photograph it on the weekend along with the Alhambra Theatre and all that was there was a vacant stand. We have compared old photos and a google street view shot from a couple of years ago with the latest batch to make sure and the picture isn't pretty. We'll reach out to the heritage community to see if anyone else has some information about what happened.

As we enter silly season I have been warned to be brief. No one has time to read long pages of diatribes against those who own wonderful old buildings and don’t maintain them. I am just back from a week in Cape Town, travelling there by train. The most disgusting views of Johannesburg came from the eastern section behind the Art Gallery where literally tons of filth are simply pushed over the side from what used to Union Grounds. This continues for some way.

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