Local History

This is a history of chieftaincies, tribes, rivalries, land congestion, conflict over land and a repeated pattern of rural violence placed in historical context but also with an eye on the intractability of current politics. The background is set with a quick documenting of early history on the Tambookie frontier of the Eastern Cape of South Africa (take a look at the map of the Tambookie or nort-eastern frontier in circa 1845. The focus switches to the colonial attempts to organize and order the Eastern Frontier of the Cape Province, an area of South Africa much

Secret Johannesburg is a small book with a big punch. The intriguing title lures the city enthusiast to acquire it, pop it in a pocket or a handbag and take it on a journey to discover Joburg's little known treasures. Complete with nifty maps, this guidebook with a difference unearths Johannesburg’s amazing hidden objects, spaces, places, artworks, geology, water features, trees and museums.

 

This week I thought I would write about a Durban book as I am about to spend a couple of days there shortly. I have always had a liking for Durban. For me it was an exciting and welcoming holiday town and as a teenager how I looked forward to a fortnight’s holiday at one of the beachfront hotels enjoying sunshine, sea, sand, sunburn and a South African Christmas.

Diepsloot is a well written and researched account of a specific burgeoning settlement on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It is part of the post apartheid world of migrancy to the city. Harber has been called “the slayer of stereotypes” and indeed he is. The study is about people coming from somewhere else, trying to find a space to call home, to start a life in the city and find a job. The book reveals the problems and challenges of overcrowded formal and informal living with minimal services. Diepsloot is perhaps home to 200 000 people.

This is one of those literal doorstoppers of a book. It is an immensely thick, dense, daunting and difficult to read tome. The scope of this book is vast and totally pretentious. The eye was on the detail and seemingly, because it was the work of a committee, no civic worthy or fact of civic worth could be omitted. Some 45 years after publication it is incredibly dated. The big themes and what is unique about this city in its short 80 year history is either lost in the plethora of facts or not there at all. 

 

Gordonia is a remote, frontier part of South Africa, located in the Northern Cape Province. It is a dry, mainly barren, marginal land with a small linguistically and culturally mixed population. Along the Orange River the land is fertile because it is irrigated. It was an area settled by the Basters (in the late 19th century but there are also Xhosa speakers and descendants of other Khoisan people). Frontiers people are a breed of their own, self-reliant, tough, hardy and poor.

In 1948 a book called Homes of the Golden City was published. The book is about Johannesburg. The initiator of the project was Allister Macmillan, who sadly died before the book was completed. The project was brought to completion by a young writer Eric Rosenthal (1905-1983) who went on to be be a prolific author on historical themes.

 

Observatory in Johannesburg is one of those rare "hidden treasure" type of suburbs in Johannesburg, located to the north east of the city and spreading across the high ridges of the Witwatersrand. It is a suburb that takes full advantage of the koppies, panoramic views and rocky terrain. Established more than 100 years ago, there are many fine old heritage houses on stands between half an acre and a full acre.

Johannesburg is well into its second century and at a time when it seems that the roots of Johannesburg’s past are being altered, the physical landscape shifting and the street names honouring the city’s pioneers reflecting new histories, it is timely to pull out a book published at the turn of the twentieth century and engage with some early history. “Men of the Times” must have been one of the earliest “who’s who” type of publications. It dates from 1905 and was one of those large format works, very “coffee table” in looks, it weighs in at over 5 pounds or 2.5

In the Footsteps of Gandhi An illustrated history of Johannesburg's Linksfield Ridge and environs by Alkis Doucakis, 2007, published by Colors, illustrated, 80 pages. This is a fascinating work of local history. It starts with the advantage of an appealing title, hanging the history of the north eastern suburbs of Johannesburg (Linksfield Ridge, Linksfield, Orange Grove, Norwood, Sydenham, and Observatory) to the association of Mahatma Gandhi and the Johannesburg German,  Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach in the early years of the 20th century.   

Subscribe to Local History