Gauteng

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.

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.

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