We South Africans live in a polyglot society, which under our Constitution, has 11 official languages that “must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably”. Mother tongues range from Afrikaans to IsiZulu, from isiXhosa to Setswana, however to stop us being a modern Tower of Babel we largely use one language to communicate between each other and that is English. In doing so we are reflecting a world wide trend. In today’s world English has become the “Lingua Franca” replacing French as the language of diplomacy and German in the field of science.
Should one drive out of Johannesburg eastwards along the N12 highway, a famous landmark is passed at the Snake Road exit, known as Benoni’s mountain or more accurately the Kleinfontein Mine Dump. The Dump has been standing tall (92 metres) for over 90 years but will soon only be a memory as it is being reclaimed for the estimated 3 ½ tons of gold that it contains. For many it is an eyesore and good riddance, but others will be sad to see it go.
A few years ago, one of the oldest houses in Norwood faced a bleak future. The owners had spent little to nothing on maintenance over the years, rubbish was piling up and services had been disconnected. Developers began circling hoping to acquire the property for a bargain price. Illegal demolition appeared to be the most likely outcome at this stage.
The Joburg skyline (or at least hints of it) can be viewed from hundreds of places around the city. There are some spots that provide such an exceptional view and experience that they must be shared. City enthusiasts will be aware of these and many more not mentioned. Please add your favourite spots in the comments section below.
The Hill above the Dutch Reformed Church, Cottesloe
While browsing through the book Seventy Golden Years (published by the Johannesburg City Council in 1956 to commemorate the city's 70th birthday), I came across a wonderful advert for Stewarts and Lloyds of South Africa. The company proudly announced that the hitching posts it supplied to the fashionable Athenaeum Club in the early 1900s were still in place over fifty years later. This was despite the Athenaeum being demolished and the reality that horses were no longer the major means of transport.
Da Gama Park is a little known, underused and under appreciated Johannesburg park. It is a rare beauty spot because it is located on spectacular open high ground bordering Observatory Extension, Cyrildene and De Wetshof (click here to view on google maps). It has the feeling of open, unfettered common land where your dogs can roam freely across tufty African grass. There are no fences and no playground equipment.
Charles Thrupp arrived in South Africa from the United Kingdom in 1882 and made his way to King Williams Town to take up a job with a local wholesaler. As the gold fields of the Rand began to boom, the firm called on Thrupp to open and manage a store in Johannesburg. After a few years of solid trade, the branch hit hard times and had to close its doors in 1892. For most employees this would have meant looking for another job but Thrupp saw Johannesburg's potential and acquired the grocery side of the ailing business.
Johannesburg’s Roman Catholic Cathedral of Christ the King is an impressive landmark located on the corner of Sarotoga Avenue and End Street in Berea. It was built in the late 1950s when Johannesburg was one of the fastest growing cities in the world and opened in impressive style in 1960. Below are a few edited passages (from an article that appeared in the 1961 edition of South African Panorama) that provide a wonderful description of the architecture and craftsmanship that produced the stirring structure.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 started a gold rush that surpassed the Californian (1849), Victorian (1851) and Barberton (1885) rushes and the initial boom created the city of Johannesburg, which was literally and figuratively built on gold. The initial boom lasted for three years as the mining companies followed the sloping reef into the earth’s crust and then in 1889 the bust happened, as the gold appeared to suddenly run out which in turn caused a pall of pessimism to hang over the diggings.
In the article below, first published in the Gold Fields Review 1992-1993, Eris Malan tells the story of the discovery of a remarkable set of documents that filled a significant gap in the priceless Gold Fields Collection. She also traces some of the history behind the Collection including the process that led to the Cory Library at Rhodes University becoming the custodian. The article has been shortened by The Heritage Portal Team.
This article originally appeared in the do.co.mo.mo journal and on an earlier version of The Heritage Portal. Thank you to the authors for giving us permission to republish. Click here to view the article as it appeared in do.co.mo.mo journal 48 2013/1.
In 1961, South African Panorama ran a special article bidding a sad farewell to tramcars in Johannesburg (the tram had dominated the transport scene for seven decades until the rise of the trolley-bus led to its demise). Below are a few excerpts and photographs from the wonderful piece.
The Johannesburg Stock Exchange has had a remarkable six homes during its existence reflecting the massive growth of Johannesburg, South Africa and the institution itself over a relatively short period of time. The streets where it has been located have become famous in financial circles around the world (think Simmonds, Hollard, Diagonal and now Gwen Lane). Whenever the Stock Exchange has moved, major banks and companies have followed creating new financial districts and leaving old ones to reinvent themselves.
The sculpture shows a soldier in kilt and Scottish regalia. It fits in most dramatically with its position on a rising site on the triangular ground where St Andrew’s and Ridge Road meet. Visually it is very satisfying. It may not be a great work of art, but it is certainly a fine memorial, beautifully proportioned and well executed.
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 months, Mayor Herman Mashaba has been communicating his vision for accelerating the rejuvenation of Johannesburg's inner city. He has met with business people and property developers and challenged them to turn the CBD into a construction site. He has committed to tackle corruption and improve the enforcement of the city's by-laws. He has said all the right things about harnessing heritage sites and reusing old buildings. As a result inner city enthusiasts (and I'm sure many residents and workers as well) are feeling a new wave of optimism.
In June 1954, a new building was completed at 80 Albert Street to the east of the Johannesburg CBD (just south of the Barclays / ABSA precinct today). It was designed as the head office of Johannesburg’s Non-European Affairs Department (JNEAD) and became the nerve centre for controlling the lives of black people in Johannesburg for over three decades. Despite having great cultural significance, the building’s controversial and complex history remains relatively unknown outside heritage circles.
For many, Parkhurst is synonymous with boutique fashion and fine dining but it is less well known for its struggle heritage. Earlier this week I visited a house on 12th Street which was used as a large ANC weapons cache in the late 1980s. The cache formed part of a then top secret ANC operation code-named Vula which ran from 1988 to 1990 and aimed to establish a well-supplied underground network of top personnel that could revive the armed struggle.
Looking through old editions of the SA Builder is a fascinating experience. Many of the magazines have high quality photographs (and some sketches) and solid descriptions of projects occurring at the time. As one browses through these projects it becomes clear that only a small number of buildings have survived to this day. Below is a random selection of ten buildings from the 1920s and 1930s that were featured in their day but no longer grace the streets of Johannesburg.