Review of Charles van Onselen's The Night Trains. Published by Jonathan Ball Publishers in 2019.
This is a lush plush book on the Carlton Hotel circa 2013 but published in 2017. The Carlton is a ghost place, a mothballed hotel and a symbol both of what downtown Johannesburg was and what it has become. The Carlton is also a metaphor for the ultimate in international style, luxury and aspiration in Johannesburg. The Carlton was the place where Johannesburg showed that it could be a world class city in the decades of the seventies and eighties.
I read Politics and Community- Based Research: Perspectives from the Yeoville Studio, Johannesburg with great interest as I have known Yeoville since I was a child and have many memories of the suburb. I have never lived in Yeoville but I have visited friends, was a regular cinema goer at the Piccadilly, shopped in Yeoville, bought petrol at the garage on Cavendish Road, used the tailor and bought fabrics down Rockey Street and swum in the Yeoville municipal pool. The most reasonable locksmith and cobbler are still at the Yeoville market.
Deneys Schreiner (1923-2008) was a liberal and an academic, a scientist and a Vice Principal at Natal University (Pietermaritzburg Campus). He was known as the man with the flowing beard, which he kept in place and sprouting from his face as a personal protest against the apartheid regime.
The title, Civilising Grass - The Art of the Lawn on the South African Highveld, intrigued and immediately raised questions. What is the difference between grass, veld and lawn? Why is there an art in its cultivation? What does a lawn mean? Why do some people spend precious leisure time mowing a lawn? Why do lawns matter and what do they represent? If you read this book you will find some of the answers. This is certainly a book to set you thinking. We all benefit from the author’s scholarship (the bibliography is vast).
Sometimes it takes a foreigner to recognize a powerful South African story. The title is arresting Barnato’s Diamonds. Such a title must surely refer to the diamonds owned or mined by Barney Barnato the flamboyant mining pioneer who made his first fortune in Kimberley in the 1870s and his second fortune on the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg after 1886. He was the man who founded Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company, affectionately called “Johnnies” or JCI. Barnato was involved in everything that made Johannesburg, the mining camp that became the
Dr Pam Heller-Stern has written a novel based on the life and times of Jose Dale Lace, grand dame of Edwardian Johannesburg. Married to John Dale Lace, the couple commissioned the architect Herbert Baker to build them a grand mansion on the Parktown Ridge. Completed in 1904, Northwards was one of the most imposing and enduring of the mansions of Parktown.
We have all been looking forward to the appearance of Hidden Pretoria and we are not disappointed. The launch took place in October at the University of Pretoria on a clear starlit night under a magical crescent moon. It was a beautiful evening, the stylish launch comprised a three way conversation about the book, a photographic exhibition of Proust’s Pretoria images, and a sales table manned by Protea books.
In 1960 Hendrik Verwoerd, the Prime Minister of South Africa came to Johannesburg to open the Rand Easter Show at Milner Park. It was a traditional annual event of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society and a highlight of the Johannesburg calendar. In fact the Rand Easter Show was in everyone’s calendar - sportsmen, the horsey set, farmers who bred prize Ayrshire cattle, the radio world who ran their stations from the Tower of Light, housewives shopping for the newest home appliances, children who delighted in the funfair. Everyone looked forward to a day of fun
This is a very early survey of Johannesburg circa 1893 by Henry Longland whose 1890s directories are an excellent source of early information about Johannesburg Streets. This slender book, just 60 pages, has been reproduced from the British Museum rare document collection and is available online from Amazon and Abe books.
Heather Mason is an American who lives in Johannesburg, has embraced the city and blogs about her experiences on a website called 2Summers. She came to South Africa in 2010 and embraced a life as a migrant bohemian freelancer. She called her blog 2Summers as she experienced two summers in a row.
Johannesburg was always a much photographed place from its earliest days. It was a city that grew up with photographers and their cameras. As a town of migrants and immigrants, people wanted to send postcards and photographic souvenirs back home.
Eric Rosenthal (1905-1983) was a prolific writer. The bibliography of his books in his Wikipedia entry runs to 50 books. I have collected most of them. He wrote non-fiction history about South Africa. His style was light and entertaining. He was a raconteur. He captured yarns and stories about the past and he loved drawing out the characters of early Johannesburg. Rosenthal was trained as a lawyer but chose journalism and writing for a living. His books were popular in their day with large print runs and are therefore readily available today.
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.
Some people are determined and fortunate enough to live two lives in one lifetime. Laurence Chait is one of this special breed. He has lived a life in medicine and a life in art. He is a well-known Johannesburg medical specialist with a distinguished and long medical career as practitioner and professor of Wits University. His specialization is plastic and reconstructive surgery. His particular expertise has been the treatment of children born with cleft lip and palate deformities; he has changed the lives of thousands of children.
Harold Napier Devitt (he wrote under the name of Napier Devitt) was born in England in 1871 and came to South Africa in 1889 on board the Royal Mail Ship, the Spartan. He tells us he was only 17 years old at the time of his arrival. He explains in the opening chapter of the first volume of his memoirs that he was one of 10 men in a party sponsored by Sir Frederic Young of the Colonial Institute and Sir Henry Pasteur, a City of London man. F C Selous the great African hunter was also on the voyage and thrilled the young Devitt with tales of the African veld.
During Andrew Mokete Mlangeni’s political career he sometimes had to change his name to Percy, or Mokete Mokoena. On Robben Island he got another identity as Prisoner 6447/64. But in democratic South Africa he is honoured as Om (oom) Andrew Mlangeni, the people’s person, the prestigious ‘backroom boy’. And this is how he will be remembered since he is really a people’s person, a beloved Dube resident who liked to play golf for recreation.
The date of this book is unknown but the internal evidence pinpoints the volume to the years 1896 to 1899. The size is 25x30cm. The cover is an eye catching gold printing on pebbled dark maroon cloth, gilt edges, scuffing to edges, each page specially attached. The book contains laid down newspaper cuttings of Johannesburg life in the late 19th century. The author of these Weekly Star contributions was Johnstone Sheldon who wrote under the pseudonym The Vagrant.
This book is part of the well established series “Wake Up, This is Joburg”. It is slender, slight and instantly collectable with the look and feel of a quality art book. The book is a combination of photographic essay and a journalist’s essay on Johannesburg as shopping mecca. It is all about the people. The author, Tanya Zack and the photographer, Mark Lewis walk the city’s streets to interview and pin down fleeting images of the shoppers of the city.
This is a fascinating first person autobiographical account of one woman’s experiences and life in Southern Africa between the early 1880s and her final years in Johannesburg in the 1960s. Bertha Goudvis enjoyed a long and arduous life (1876 – 1966) during years of turbulent change and several wars. She was a first hand observer of the colonial world and lives on to comment on city life in modern Johannesburg.
Last week it was my pleasure and good fortune to attend the launch of this project, or perhaps I should say the mid-stage of this survey, endeavour and adventure. This is a book in the making. At this moment it is a report, perhaps somewhat dry and very much a presentation of data, but already it transcends the report phase and is on it its way to a landmark book. As a physical book there are only 50 numbered collectors’ hard copies (and each one will become instantly collectable).
It was Herman Kallenbach’s good fortune and misfortune to have met and formed a rare, deep and enduring friendship with Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa in the years 1903 to 1914. The good fortune came because to have been a close friend and associate of the man who became Mahatma Gandhi earns Kallenbach a place in Indian and South African struggle history. The misfortune followed because Kallenbach became a tortured soul as an ascetic acolyte and struggled during his entire life to find an identity and meaning in life.
This is a novel and not a work of history but it draws on the styles and writings of other distinguished writers of and about Johannesburg who provided the inspiration and perhaps some foundation stones. One realizes that there is a community of people out there who love Johannesburg and write about the place. Many of us who live here are passionate about Johannesburg and feel that unique pulse of the city.
Review of John Maud's City Government: The Johannesburg Experiment published by Oxford University Press in 1938.
This is a magnificently produced book and shows off Fourthwall production book art skills. My copy is only the standard edition yet the soft cover A4 size volume comes in a fiery red box.
This small volume (published in 1956) was a record of the look and feel of the City of Johannesburg in the 1950s. There are more than 60 marvellous black and white photographs of Johannesburg sights, scenes and people. Joburg was still dominated by mine activities in the fifties and the presence of the familiar fine sand mine dumps was a dominant feature on the horizon.
In November 1972 the new Carlton Hotel, fronting Main Street in Johannesburg opened. Guests were presented with a copy of the limited edition of this nostalgic handsome book, Meet Me at the Carlton, which told the story of the old Carlton Hotel of Johannesburg. This commemorative book was commissioned by the Carlton Centre. 500 numbered limited edition copies were printed, signed by the author, Eric Rosenthal for the opening celebration.
Johannesburg Pioneer Journals 1888-1909 edited by Maryna Fraser, published by the Van Riebeeck Society Cape Town 1985, Second Series no 16. This is an elegant well presented volume and an excellent item of Johannesburg history.
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 a book of photographs of old inner city Johannesburg, of its buildings, cityscapes, street views and public art. It is a very beautiful book and it slips easily and rather well into the library of books on the changing faces of Johannesburg. At least 20 companies or institutes have contributed funds for its publication. The photographer is Patrick de Mervelec, who teamed up with the architectural historian, Clive Chipkin who has written the all too brief captions for the photographs.
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.
I had not come across this book previously and found that it is a rare volume, as it was produced for family consumption and to commemorate the life of a remarkable South African early business entrepreneur Joffe Marks who established Premier Milling. As Marks died in 1951 aged 89, a book appearing some 50 years after his death is almost half a century too late.
What is the purpose of a film? At the simplest level, it is a form of storytelling in visual form, satisfying an age-old desire of humans to gather to listen to the elders of a tribe relate as oral tradition, fables and myths, stories and heroic deeds. Films can entertain, educate, offer fantasy, and as a visual medium can thrill, scare and transport the viewer to another world. Film is a medium of popular culture. Film is a means of learning about other societies mediated through the imagination of the director.
Eric Rosenthal was a prolific, popular writer and populist historian. His dates were 1905 to 1983 and during a long career as a journalist, researcher and historian he produced some fifty books. There is a useful bibliography of all his writing in the Wikipedia entry (click here to view) and a collection of 20th century Africana will probably contain a number of his works.
In October 2016 Johannesburg celebrates its 130th birthday. From those early beginnings as a mining camp on the veld here is a city in its second century sufficiently mature to realize that there are some buildings worth celebrating and preserving; the camp grew to a town, then a city and is now a sprawling metropolis. It was a city with little appreciation of its past and property developers then and now seldom show respect for the old and out of date.
Review of The Reb and the Rebel Jewish Narratives in South Africa 1892-1913. Edited by Carmel Schrire and Gwynne Schrire. Published by UCT Press and the Kaplan Centre of Jewish Studies and Research, University of Cape Town. 2016. Paperback, illustrated. 258 pages. ISBN no. 9780799224931
Review of The Johannesburg Gas Works, by Monika Lauferts le Roux and Judith Mavunganidze, published by Fourthwall Books, 2015, 94 pages, illustrated.
Burgess, John (Compiler): The Road Through the Grove – Friendship and adventure along Louis Botha Avenue, Johannesburg in the 1950s, '60s and ‘70s. (Redsky publishing, 2016. illustrated, 284 full colour pages, 4 page fold out map by Trevor Romain)
I turned to this book on my shelves because I sought some background information on the Hal Hurst full length portrait of the elegant Mrs José Dale Lace. This now almost iconic Johannesburg society portrait hangs in the drawing room of Northwards. The illustration of the portrait features on the contents page of the Stevenson book but despite its prominent position in the book, there is very little discussion about the background to the portrait or the artist Hal Hurst.
This small publication (sponsored by the Goldfields Foundation) was published as a Johannesburg centenary venture in 1986 by the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (today the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation). It is interesting in the context of the bibliography of both where the heritage lobby was some thirty years ago and how topics of historical investigation change. It has become a sought after little publication, highly collectible though only 40 pages long.
These days overseas travel broadens the mind and empties the pocket. Sometimes on a journey abroad an encounter with a work of art, recalls a remembered and much loved treasure at home and in a flash a whole new understanding drops into the brain. I had just such an experience in San Francisco recently when I discovered the fabulous European art collection of the Legion of Honour Art museum. San Francisco was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of the Spreckles collection of Rodin sculpture.
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.
From Jo'burg to Jozi Stories about Africa's infamous city, edited by Heidi Holland and Adam Roberts, 2002, paperback, 258 pages, ISBN 0143024191
Activate/Captivate, Collections re-engagement at Wits Art Museum, edited by Laura De Becker and Anitra Nettleton, published 2015 by Wits Art Museum, 192 pages, illustrated. ISBN 978 0 620 67792 9
This is one of those dozen or so "must have in a Johannesburg collection of books". Published in 1979, it is a book that reminds one of the passage of time. How recent now seem one's young days and yet how long ago it all was. A friend recently commented that it is impossible to stop the march of progress, when I bemoaned the impact of the new Rea Vaya on Louis Botha Avenue which, as a result of the road works, instead of revitalization, has become a hazardous obstacle course.
Richard Lewinsohn, Barney Barnato from Whitechapel Clown to Diamond King, Routledge, London, 1937, 275 pages, 8 illustrations, hardcover
In its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Ravan Press was regarded as the daring, oppositional anti-apartheid publisher in Johannesburg, ready to take an alternative perspective of South African society. The publishing firm was established by Peter Randall, Danie Van Zyl and Beyers Naude and the firm's name, Ravan was an amalgam of their three names. They were publishers of the left and they supported the academic struggle for a different view and ideological interpretation of social issues of the day.
Albums are normally highly idiosyncratic and personal to the individual who has assembled a collection of photographs or stamps or newspaper cuttings. In 1986 Dr Oscar Norwich, was a medical man with an insatiable appetite for collecting African maps and all information relating to Johannesburg history.
From Mining Camp to Metropolis the buildings of Johannesburg 1886-1940, Gerhard-Mark van der Waal, 1987, publisher Human Sciences Research Council and Chris van Rensburg publications, 268 pages, illustrated, with maps.
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.
The Johannesburg and Pretoria Guide, An Illustrated volume for Reference for Travellers, containing information of every character for visitors and residents, including Guide to all Points of Interest in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, Description of Building etc. 2nd edition, published by Dennis Edwards of Johannesburg and Cape Town (1905), 373 pages, illustrated.
This book is one of those rare specialist items of Johannesburg history. It was published in 1976 some eight years after the death of the original researcher and author, Tony Spit and the project was brought to conclusion by Brian Patton and a number of other contributors and collaborators. It is a book that strangely was published in London and not South Africa and the intended appeal was to a small international group of enthusiasts of trams, trains and trolley buses around the world, as the publishers were the Light Railway Transport League.
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
Review of Tea at Ansteys, photographs by Mark Lewis and words by Tanya Zack, Fourthwall Books, 2015, illustrated 35 pages. Price R 200, First Edition 150 copies. Tea At Ansteys is number 6 in a series of 10 small book or rather booklets, Wake Up, This is Joburg, published by Fourthwall Books, 2015. With a first edition of only 150 it is an almost instantly collectable item of Johannesburg Africana.
The Golden Crown of Johannesburg by Gerhard Freiherr von Ketelhodt, edited by Willie van den Berg, published by Willsan Mining Publishers, 2007, paperback, 150 pages, illustrated. This is an authentic quirky small book of memoirs of an immigrant miner from Germany who worked underground as a miner at the best known of the Witwatersrand mines, Crown Mines, for some twenty years from the mid 1950s to the 1970s. He sets his own story against the backdrop of the early mining origins of Johannesburg.
Western Provincial an album of Paintings and Drawings of the Western Cape, by Desiree Picton-Seymour and R I B Webster, 1952, Maskew Miller, Cape Town, 36 plates , 80 pages. This book was a collaborative effort by the artist (Picton-Seymour) and the author (Webster). The charm of this slender volume is that it captures in tipped in plates and scraper board drawings some of the architecture of the Western Cape. It is an artistic and romantic gem.